Meet Joseph Fentross: 2019 ABC Craft Instructor of the Year Finalist

Joseph Fentross' field expertise as a project manager is a highlight in the classroom, where he teaches electrical apprentices at the ABC Southern California Chapter.
By Joanna Masterson
April 16, 2019

The pressure guidance counselors place on high schoolers to attend a four-year college is a reality Joseph Fentross knows all too well. His family, like many others, stressed the importance of earning a liberal arts degree. While a college education had merit, it didn’t steer Fentross on a certain career path.

A couple years post-graduation, a friend who worked as a project manager for a local electrical contractor brought Fentross in as an electrical trainee. He was “green as can be,” but his philosophy of doing everything to the best of his ability paid off.

Fentross has worked hard during the past eight years to attain his goal of working as a project manager, currently with Rancho Pacific Electric, where he manages multiple projects, from tenant improvements to large-scale public works for school districts.

That field expertise is a highlight in the classroom, where Fentross has taught third and fourth year electrical apprentices at Associated Builders and Contractors’ Southern California Chapter since 2013. His hallmark is using real-world practices to facilitate NCCER course material and drive class participation.

In recognition of his successful methods, Fentross is one of just three finalists for ABC’s Craft Instructor of the Year award.

“I attest to you that no other person better exemplifies the qualities and is the epitome of a professional instructor, through selfless dedication and creative innovations, than Joseph Fentross,” says Douglas Sawyer, vice president of education for the ABC Southern California Chapter. “He has an innate ability to break down information to the level of all of his students and works well with all the other instructors and chapter staff.”

His students agree, stating Fentross “goes above and beyond all expectations,” and “is an awesome teacher and role model.” They can tell he really loves what he does, and perhaps more importantly that he understands where they’re coming from.

“Being able to relate to your students is key,” Fentross says. “Anecdotal stories are something I draw upon. It’s important for them to know that at one point in time I was in their shoes regarding some of the situations they’re dealing with from a social aspect and coming from the field.

“I can provide quite a bit of background to go above and beyond the NCCER curriculum so they can be more successful.”

Every class starts with a 20-minute discussion of what problems or lessons learned students have recently encountered in the field. And he’s open about sharing his own personal experiences, including winning gold in the industrial electrical competition at the 2013 ABC National Craft Championships.

Notably, he also brings this passion for the industry to high school students as a volunteer teacher in the NAWIC and ACE Academy summer camp programs. Given his own educational path, he understands how important it is to illustrate early on that there is an alternative to being successful without going to college.

“There are endless possibilities in construction. Show up on time. Show interest. Talk to people with more experience to draw upon,” Fentross advises. “If you want to rise up and be a top superintendent or if you want to specialize in installing a certain type of medical equipment, then go for it. The amount of effort you put in is what you’ll get out of it.”

Fentross’ goals were to get into project management and transition from the field to more office work. He capitalized on opportunities that came his way, and benefitted from the merit shop philosophy of rewarding employees based on the quality of their work.

“Coming up through ABC myself, I’ve seen all the different avenues afforded to students,” he says. “Being an instructor is not a job so much as being able to give back to ABC, which has given me so much.”

Read about Craft Instructor of the Year finalist Fernando Sanchez here.

by Joanna Masterson

Joanna Masterson was a writer and editor for Construction Executive for more than a decade.

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