As General Manager of A&F Electrical Testing, Inc., New York’s only independent testing company, Kevin Chilton has built a career specializing in acceptance and maintenance testing to NETA specifications. Rounding the home stretch on a 35-year career, this Level 4 NETA Certified Technician shares lessons and advice for the next generation of electrical testing professionals.
NW: How did you find your way to a career in the electrical power industry?
Chilton: I started out trying to become an electrician, but I ended up going to work for a testing company as a test technician, and 35 years later, it stuck. My wife and I started A&F Testing in 1995. Over the years, I spent lots of time in the field.
When I first started in the field, there weren’t multiple levels that you could achieve. There was only one certification in 1990. The different levels were introduced after that. By 2013, I was a Level 4 NETA Certified Technician.
NW: What motivated you to move up the certification levels during your career?
Chilton: Initially, I just wanted to be certified because A&F wanted to be certified, and we needed two certified technicians to do that. It was never about trying to prove I was smarter than anyone else. But by the time they came out with Level 4, I did it because I wanted to be at the top of what I can be.
The Levels bring recognitions from others. I signed in on a project one time and gave my NETA Level 4 credentials, and they were like, “Ohhh, you’re a NETA Level 4?!”
NW: What keeps you committed to the profession?
Chilton: Initially, it was the money. Also, I enjoyed the challenge of learning things I didn’t know. I don’t do well when I can see the end. I’m a good bridge starter, not a bridge builder. And I don’t like cut-and-dried work. I like a challenge. I like to figure things out. Once, I was going to Costa Rica on a vacation, and I realized I had forgotten all my high school Spanish. It made me angry, so I started watching Spanish TV.
NW: How important is ongoing training and professional development? How do you keep updated on standards, safety, and new technologies?
Chilton: I am always reading to keep up. Also, I listen to my team and the questions they ask. I’m a Baby Boomer, so the knowledge gap is going to be a problem for the people coming along. The amount of experience my generation is taking with them is tremendous. We need to be thinking and planning for that.
NW: What are some of the energy trends that will affect your work in the future? How are you preparing for future changes that are coming your way?
Chilton: Solar is the big one. Eventually, every building will have solar panels and batteries. Some people have talked about EVs, but I don’t think they will have a tremendous effect on the testing industry unless the car batteries feed back into the power system.
NW: What challenges you most about your work?
Chilton: Honestly, it’s the people. The hardest thing about dealing with customers is their expectations. They are looking for a great outcome, but what if all you can get them is a good outcome — what then? And sometimes there are other people on the job site who may feel threatened by you because you’re there to check things out, like the viability of their equipment.
NW: What does a good day on the job look like for you?
Chilton: A good day is when nobody gets hurt. Bringing people back online after a hurricane. Helping people recover from a blackout. There have been so many good days that I can’t distill it to just one thing. One of the best days in the industry for me was watching my son graduate from the apprenticeship program in 2019.
NW: What are some of the important lessons this job has taught you?
Chilton: Stay calm. Analyze. Execute. Review. Repeat until you get it right.
NW: As you head toward the end of your career, what’s in store for you?
Chilton: At this point, I’m five years away from retirement. I don’t think I’ll actually be able to retire, though. My son will take over the company, but he will need my help. I’m not good at sitting there. What will I do the second day? Golf should be maybe five holes. I do enjoy officiating at different sports. I’m an umpire for baseball and football. I’ve also served as an official for soccer and basketball.
NW: What’s your advice for new technicians or those thinking about pursuing the electrical testing profession?
Chilton: In this job, your No. 1 asset is good communication skills. If you can’t communicate with your customer, you could be Thomas Edison incarnate, and it won’t matter.
Get an electrical engineering degree. At a certain level, people won’t always respect your experience, but they will always respect education — so get the degree. And you need to be well-versed in electrical testing theory. Everything else will take care of itself.
NW: As an industry, what do you think should be the No. 1 priority over the next year? Where do we need to improve and grow as a profession?
Chilton: Perfection. That has to be our No.1 priority because if you barely miss perfection, you’re still pretty damn good. Training is the focus. Training covers everything. The more knowledgeable you are, the better you will be, and the safer you will be. Train, train, train.