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As the second youngest of 14 siblings—three of whom are police officers—Joel Newton jokes about the struggle to stand out in his family. That shouldn’t be a problem this year. In addition to more than a decade of service in the U.S. Army Reserves, Newton has a new achievement his brothers and sisters undoubtedly will be proud of: being named a finalist for Associated Builders and Contractors’ Craft Professional of the Year award.  

The honor recognizes journeymen who spend 90 percent of their daily job duties using tools or equipment or directly supervising craft professionals performing fieldwork. The three award finalists embody resourcefulness and the ability to think outside the box. 

“When I came home from active duty, I had a couple buddies who worked for an electrical contractor. They explained the career it had given them,” Newton says. “I really liked the continual progression of how your career goes. You don’t start out knowing everything. I’m 23 years in and I still learn something new every day.”

Newton completed the ABC electrical apprenticeship program at Grand Rapids Community College and worked for two electrical contractors before joining Michigan-based Windemuller, Inc. in 2012. He’s now a journeyman electrician, foreman and detail manager—earning the role as a liaison between the field and office because of his willingness to help with any task. 

“Joel is true to his country and his community. And he is truly curious—always wanting to know how things are going and how he can help,” says Windemuller Vice President James G. Rose.

Newton’s pre-planning habits enable the company to consistently beat project deadlines and budget projections; plus he engineers safety into jobsite plans to eliminate potential issues. He’s also responsible for championing prefabrication among the company’s foremen, and is a go-to authority on Bluebeam workflow software.

Perhaps most importantly, Newton is charitable about sharing his skills with anyone who wants to learn and is humble enough to understand he can learn from others too, yielding an incredible atmosphere of collaboration at the company.

“He is constantly working to improve as an individual, as a leader and as a mentor,” Rose says. “He unselfishly shares his knowledge and experiences to help influence and make a positive impact on those around him.” 

Newton consistently encourages fellow employees to take their careers to the next level, and even holds evening mentoring sessions at his home for colleagues who are studying for their journeyman test. He also volunteered to mentor an apprentice from Africa who graduated from an ABC Western Michigan training program for refugees, working closely to help him overcome the language barrier and become familiar with the company’s safety practices.

Sparking interest in hands-on work for a generation that has been pulled in a digital direction is a point of emphasis for Newton. He favors job shadowing programs as a way to get young people outside and actively involved in anything beyond a video screen.

“It lets them raise questions with people who are onsite. It gives them a better understanding of the industry during their impressionable years. We need to bombard them with the good that can come out of a career in the trades,” he says.

“If you sit down with your child, help him or her realize there are a lot of avenues in life. The lifestyle of an electrician—the knowledge you will gain and the successes and failures you’ll experience—will make them stronger.”

Newton also appreciates the merit shop philosophy of basing career advancement on hard work and results. “The merit shop instills that you need to be the best because you’re always looking for how you can better provide for your family,” he says. “It has challenged me to become better because I want to be the best foreman out there. If I know I’m going to automatically be given something, like my friends in the union, I wouldn’t push myself to be the best.”

Even after reaching the level of being considered for ABC’s Craft Professional of the Year award, Newton isn’t ready to slow down.  

“It doesn’t seem like I go to work because I’m happy and I want to be there,” he says. “To be honored for that is another blessing that’s been placed in my life. I can’t wait and see where that next step is going to be.”

Read about Craft Professional of the Year finalist Shaun O’Brien here.

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