Steve Newton: Learn and Pay It Forward

NETA World StaffInsights & Inspiration, Spring 2023 Insights & Inspiration


Steve Newton, National Training Center Training Program Manager at National Field Service, is a great example of a veteran making the most of his service years. Now, as he approaches 33 years in the industry, his mission is to pay his experience forward to a new generation.  

Newton is also a subject matter expert for the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET); a certified National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) Instructor; a Master Trainer for the Instructor Certification Training Program; and a Level IV NETA Certified Senior Engineering Technician in electrical power testing. He is a certified instructor for electrical, instrumentation, electronic, solar, and various power curriculums. Newton holds several professional memberships, including IEEE and NFPA, and is actively involved in reviewing and developing training and procedural materials for the electrical industry. 

In our continuing series celebrating NETA’s Level IV Certified Technicians, Newton describes his journey and shares his advice for new technicians and upcoming professionals in the industry.

NWJ: What initially attracted you to electrical testing?

Newton: I was attracted by the mixture of electrical technology, emerging computer applications in the power industry, and the variety of field work and office projects. Every day was a learning opportunity without an end.

NWJ: How long have you been in the field, and how did you get started? 

Newton: I’ve been in the electrical field for 32 years — going on 33. I started when I left the Navy after 14 years, where I was involved with electrical and electronic-related operations. I went to work for a small construction and maintenance contractor in a specialty area testing electrical equipment and commissioning new installations. That company was sold to a larger contractor, and I became a shareholder. When that company was sold again to an even larger contractor, I retired and went to work with National Field Services as an SME in training and electrical safety. 

NWJ: How did you get to your current position?

Newton: During the 20 years I worked in the field, I never said no to a job, and I went wherever I was asked no matter what the challenge. I also listened to those around me including engineers, manufacturers, and other technicians, and I checked everything I was told and heard against the standards and practices. I was always studying, always learning.

At National Field Services, I moved to technical support, training, and safety and have filled roles with increasingly higher responsibility.

NWJ: Who has influenced or mentored you along the way?

Newton: God, Jim White, Larry Nelson, Monty Humphreys, Gene Newton (my father), and Kelso Vernor, but not necessarily in that order (except for God, of course). My spiritual walk taught me to find contentment from inside myself without basing it on external factors regardless of the circumstances. Larry Nelson and Monty Humphreys taught me how this field started and put me on track to develop my own way in it. Jim White taught me the importance of being involved in changing and improving the quality of the field through participation in organizations. Finally, Kelso Vernor and my father taught me what it meant to be a man, a friend, a father, and a husband.

NWJ: What about this work keeps you committed to the profession?

Newton: I personally feel that my generation has let our children and grandchildren down by having smaller households and not recreating our skills as we should have. My goal is to spend the rest of my life left giving back as much as I can to all of them.

NWJ: Describe one of your best workdays…what happened?

Newton: While on a project that spanned a couple of years, including two months of fighting with a transformer manufacturer about the validity of power factor test results on two identical large units, the day came when we de-tanked the problematic unit and found a coating of rust all around and everywhere above the oil. After more discussion, we learned that the contractor had dressed it out in the rain. The power factors only deviated from each other by a small amount, but it was enough to be a red flag that warranted additional investigation. I trusted the test results and my ability to run the test, and it paid off. The power factor readings only varied by about 0.4%. Although this could have been the result if the factory had not processed them the same way, it still required further investigation based on comparing sister units and at least an inspection.

NWJ: Please share the story of a day that didn’t go as planned. How did you respond and what did you learn?

Newton: While working protection and controls on a 354/138/69 kV utility yard in northern Ohio, a contractor had been working on a de-energized 138 kV line below an energized 345 kV line. They had rendered it electrically safe and properly grounded everything. I had been watching a lot of the grounding process, but then went back in the control rooms with my crews. 

An hour later, we heard screaming outside. They were lowering a limp electrician down in a manlift, and the young man was pronounced dead by life flight. We learned that one of the grounds was in his way, and violating every single mitigation requirement, he moved the ground and was shocked by what we estimated based on some related metering was an approximately 10 kV induction.

This was the third fatality I had been exposed to that was associated with safety grounding. Today, I place an emphasis on grounding in all of my electrical safety training.

NWJ: What energy trend do you think will affect your work in the future?

Newton: I don’t think any of the current trends will affect our work. In the end, unless we change physics, our profession will always be needed in one way or another. I will say that electric vehicles — if they stay — will be become a phenomenal opportunity for our industry.

NWJ: As an industry, what do you think should be our No. 1 priority over the next year? 

Newton: We must bring in and train new talent — as many and as fast as we can.

NWJ: If you were talking to a young person interested in knowing more about being an electrical testing technician, how would you describe the job, and what advice would you give them?

Newton: If you will come into this field, work hard, learn what we teach you, challenge what we teach to make sure it is accurate, and go where asked whenever you are asked, you will make plenty of money. If you continue to do these things as you get older, you will eventually find true success, which in my view is when you are being paid for what you know rather than what you can do.

When you are looking for a job, you can ask what it pays, but an important follow-up question should be, “How much can I be making 20 years from now, and what type of advancement potential am I looking at?”

NWJ: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Newton: Learn what is meant by “to be content.”