Mona Shield Payne
Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Eric Simmons, senior project manager at Helix Electric, has enough tools to last him a lifetime. So after he was awarded $25,000 worth of tools, the Las Vegas native decided to donate the resources to a local apprenticeship program to make sure students have what they need for their careers.
Simmons, who has been an electrician for more than 20 years, nominated himself for the Klein Tools Electrician of the Year competition. Out of 350 candidates, he was among six finalists chosen from six regions throughout the United States based on professional achievement, safety excellence and community dedication.
After popular voting, Simmons was named the winner in October and was awarded an ultimate Klein garage package and $2,500 worth of tools annually for 10 years.
He’s the second Nevadan to win an award within the three competitions Klein Tools has held. Sergio Cortez of Las Vegas, who was an electrician at Mountain View Hospital and instructor at the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), was a regional winner of the competition in 2013. This was how Simmons found out about the opportunity.
Simmons became an electrician after working at his uncle’s company, Simmons Electric, when he was about 15 years old. He would go there on weekends with his father who worked there as well. His maternal grandfather also was an electrician for several years.
After attending college for about a year in California, Simmons moved back to Las Vegas and began working at smaller companies as an electrician before working at University Medical Center and then Helix Electric starting in the late '90s. He then left Helix to work for Berg Electric, but returned to Helix to become the company’s superintendent before being promoted to senior project manager.
Given that the job runs in Simmons’ family, he inherited tools from his grandfather and uncle, making it easier for him to start his career. He said that not everyone has this advantage.
“We have kids in the (ABC) apprenticeship program who don’t have that support,” he said. “If you are buying quality tools, it adds up very quickly. You can easily spend thousands of dollars.”
Simmons has taught classes at the ABC Las Vegas office and helps out with the four-year apprenticeship program, so he decided to use his Klein Tools award to benefit future electricians through a tool scholarship, which will be awarded during the program’s graduation.
“I pretty much have all the tools I need, and I have strict restrictions from my wife that I have too many tools,” he said, later adding, “I don’t think I’ll have any troubles spending the money.”
Simmons said he also hopes the tool scholarship will encourage more young people to consider skilled trades, as there is a labor shortage in the field.
“I think people are a little intimidated by it, but I’d encourage people to explore it,” he said. “There’s a lot of room, and trades are becoming more high-tech. It’s very interactive, and there’s a ton of things to learn."