On entering vocational school, Zavier Alicea was beset by all the doubts and uncertainties that face all kids. That first step was so important. He had some 20 study programs to choose from. Say, carpentry, culinary arts, automotive engineering, communication studies – all of them tempting, but were they what he wanted? He selected robotic engineering and automation.

And from there, he narrowed his focus further to mechatronics — a word constructed of borrowings from mechanical, electronic and electrical engineering systems.

“I was attracted to the problems in it,” said Alicea, embarking on a career based as much on studied ambition as the joys of intellectual challenge. Beyond having the sheer fun of solving problems, why pick the electrical? Because, he said, from the business side, skilled professionals would always be needed in the field.

And he finds himself at ELM Electrical as a panel builder, from the wiring on out – a panel being a simple designation for a highly complex command-and-control instrument carrying disconnect switches, transformers and other electronic components.

Said Scot Laurent, ELM’s Panel Shop Manager: “I got some young, bright kids in here that pick it up [snap of his fingers] real quick. Zavier’s one of them, where, ‘Hey, you want to learn?’ Just throw ’em in front of it. If you got a question — ask me, ask another engineer.”

It all started for Alicea when he helped his dad and grandfather rewire part of their home. That was his introduction to electricity as something more than just what made light bulbs light. The experience triggered a hunger. Maybe most boys want to know what makes a car tick. For Alicea, it was electricity. He was hooked.

Funny how sometimes making the wrong turn can straighten a kid out. On graduating, Alicea took a job as a machine operator. “I wasn’t happy in the situation,” he said. “It didn’t work out.” About that time, ELM acquired Columbia Manufacturing, Inc., a prominent school furniture manufacturer. Alicea’s father, Pedro, was an employee of Columbia, and Pedro mentioned his son to Bob Bacon, ELM President and CEO. And that was it.

“When I first came in and got introduced to the co-workers, they embraced me,” Alicea said. “Through talking with them, became tight and close and had a good friendship.”

Alicea immersed himself in his early duties at ELM.

“You learn different avenues, different areas,” he said, and soon he was involved in drawings and blueprints, as well.

“Every day, it’s something different,” he said. “One day, you’re working on a panel. Next day, there’s an order of, hey, let me get these prints down real quickly. “The work – that’s the fascinating part of it all. I’m loving what I’m doing.”