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a headshot of Paul Asselin, ABC's 2024 Craft Instructor

A Lesson Plan for Life: ABC's 2024 Craft Instructor of the Year Paul Asselin

Craft Instructor of the Year Paul Asselin: ‘It’s up to them what success means to them. But I would hope that they constantly evolve and take the little bit that I taught them and build on that to build themselves a great career.’
By Grace Calengor
June 3, 2024
Topics
Workforce

“Just being able to watch ’em grow up and become the people they are, and you see ’em at this young age. It’s just great. Just great.”

ABC’s 2024 Craft Instructor of the Year, Paul Asselin, is an instructor at Gould Construction Institute in Woburn, Massachusetts—the education and training affiliate of ABC Massachusetts. But he isn’t speaking about the many students he’s mentored over the decades. Rather, he’s talking about the people he taught first: his family.

With a “wonderful” wife, three daughters, two granddaughters and two grandsons, Asselin has acquired his fair share of wisdom to impart. “We’ve got three daughters, and they’re the light of our life,” he says. “There are always some challenges that life throws at you. But we always have more good than anything else.”

Embracing the beauty—and inevitable chaos—of family is something Asselin has always included in his lesson plan for life. The family’s most recent get together, a trip to Aruba, was a lesson in the importance of quality time. “Playing with the [grand]kids just one-on-one time with them was awesome,” Asselin says. “Because normally when we see them, it’s a kid’s birthday party and they’re busy with their friends. But to have that vacation time with them was phenomenal.”

DOING THE RIGHT THING

Asselin knows childhood is fleeting from watching first his children and now his grandchildren grow up, but he also knows that the decisions you make in your youth can shape your future—a big reason why he instructs the next generation of craft professionals. When he was a kid, growing up in Chicopee, Massachusetts, “My uncle Tony Petrucelli was an electrician,” Asselin says. “I always looked up to him. Around seventh, eighth grade, when it was time to decide what to do with the rest of my life, my brother David basically told me I need to go to the trade school and pick a trade. He said, ‘Why don’t you become an electrician like Uncle Tony?’ That stuck with me, so that’s what I did. And here we are 40 years later.”

That family-inspired beginning brought Asselin to Elm Electric Inc. in Westfield, Massachusetts, in 1983. He still works there today as a training manager and senior project manager. He served previously as chair of the general advisory board and the electrical shop advisory board for Westfield’s local vocational school, Westfield Technical Academy, and since 2001 has served as the wiring inspector for the town of Russell.
Asselin found his way to Gould Construction Institute in 2001 as well. When Gould wanted to start a program not far from Westfield, in Springfield, Massachusetts, they contacted Elm Electrical’s president, Robert Bacon, who suggested that Asselin would be a good fit for the job. “I do enjoy teaching both our employees and the students at the Gould Construction Institute,” Asselin says. “I spend a lot of time teaching. That’s my primary job.”

Asselin enjoys teaching so much that he also leads night classes at Gould part-time—in addition to his other instructor duties there. What keeps him going, and what he aims to communicate “for my students and anybody generally,” he says, “is always do the right thing. Typically, the right thing isn’t the easy thing to do, but [by] doing the right thing, you’ll never have regrets. Whatever that means. Whatever the right thing is.”

FINESSE AND PERSEVERANCE

For Asselin, the right thing is finding the balance between his family, his career and his double duty as craft instructor for Elm and Gould. That takes finesse—and a little perseverance. Those are skills he also practices with his side project outside the classroom.

“Recently, we acquired my brother-in-law’s ’69 Camaro,” Asselin says. “That was his since he was a teenager. We’ve become the caretakers of that vehicle, and we are currently going through it right now to bring it back to its original glory. So, I spend a lot of time working on that. And my wife will tell you that it’s her car—she just lets me work on it.”

While refurbishing a classic takes finesse and perseverance, Asselin’s electrical skills certainly don’t hurt. Yet another thing he teaches his students: that life in the field informs life outside of it, and vice versa. “I tell all my students: To be a good electrician, you’ve got to be a good mechanic,” Asselin says. “You’ve got to be good with your hands, you’ve got to be good with hand tools. You’ve got to be good at problem solving. Any vehicle is just a machine. And we work on machines that are a lot more complicated than an automobile.”

This type of work—both restoring old cars and teaching—isn’t just gratifying for Asselin. “It’s fun for me,” he says. “The older cars are a lot easier to work on. They’re more mechanical than electronic, where with the cars today, everything is electronic. So, working on that bare-bones vehicle is just a lot of fun.”

Fun is an important aspect of any successful career. “It helps when you really enjoy what you’re doing,” Asselin says. But if his students take one lesson from his classroom, he hopes it’s this: “They need to understand that integrity is an important part of our business, and [so is] doing their best and working hard. There’s nothing wrong with hard work and constantly learning, constantly evolving.

“Don’t get stuck doing one thing for the rest of your life,” he says. “Learn a new part of the trade, because there are a lot of facets of our trade, and I just want them to go out there and be successful. It’s up to them what success means to them. But I would hope that they constantly evolve and take the little bit that I taught them and build on that to build themselves a great career.”

‘BEYOND MY COMPREHENSION’

Asselin has certainly built himself a great career, culminating in his ABC Craft Instructor of the Year accolade. After years of instructing hundreds or possibly thousands of students, was he surprised he had won? “I was instantly thrilled,” he says, “and couldn’t believe it. It really made me feel good, because it is something that you don’t think you’ll ever, ever achieve, but when you do, it’s great.”

As part of the judging process, Asselin was led through a series of interviews, which put him in the seat opposite of the one he usually sits in as an instructor. “I am never at a loss for words teaching,” he says. “But something about being in that environment, it was a little stressful, because this [award] was something that meant a lot to me to even be nominated for. And then being in the process, I didn’t want to mess it up.”

Now that the award has been announced and presented, Asselin can relax a little and even enjoy his accomplishment. “You put the effort in for—since early 2000, when I started,” he says. “And it’s nice to be recognized. I think anybody would agree with that, no matter what it is. And at this level, for this organization, a national award is just phenomenal. It was beyond my comprehension. Never even thought it was a possibility. And then to have it happen in reality was just fantastic.”

Asselin’s Camaro is coming along slowly but surely, and his family is still front and center in his life’s lesson plan. He still enjoys teaching at Elm and Gould. Perhaps one day, he might see one of his own pupils receive a Construction Workforce Award.

ABC's 2024 Craft Professional of the Year award is proudly sponsored by NCCER and Tradesmen International.

NCCER is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) education foundation created by the construction industry to establish standardized curriculum and assessments with portable credentials and certifications to develop skilled craft professionals. NCCER provides a comprehensive workforce development system that includes training, assessment and certification for the construction and maintenance industries.

Tradesmen International is the construction industry’s premier source for skilled craft professionals and labor-related services. Tradesmen supplies ABC members with strategies for maintaining the highest safety standards and improving workforce productivity while supporting efforts to contain costs related to workers’ comp, health care and unemployment. With more than 175 offices across North America, Tradesmen International can serve you in any U.S. state and Canada.

by Grace Calengor
Grace Calengor is associate editor of Construction Executive.

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