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For Alabama native Larry Harris, a career in the skilled trades was a happy (if frightening) accident. As a newlywed DIY-er in 1966, Harris wasn’t one to shy away from a home-improvement project. 

“I was working at the steel mill and I got married, and Popular Mechanics was a good magazine way back when, and it told you how to do a lot of things,” Harris says. “So I put a light in over my sink and I put a hood in over my stove, and everything went great. Then I hooked a dryer up, and it didn’t go so great. I got shocked pretty bad.”

About a week later, after recovering from that mishap, Harris saw an advertisement in his local newspaper: “Learn electrical wiring. Go to trade school.” Harris says: “I saw that advertisement, looked at my wife and I said, ‘Well, if I’m gonna keep foolin’ with this stuff, I better find out more about it.’” 

Harris went to the school, and he found it so interesting that he just couldn’t stop—taking class after class. That education made quite an impression on Harris, who loves his trade so much that, at 76 years old, he continues to teach electrical work at the Academy of Craft Training in Birmingham, Alabama—sponsored in part by ABC of Alabama—where he’s made such an impact that he’s been named ABC’s 2022 Craft Instructor of the Year.
Humble to his core, Harris feels certain that “there are a thousand people out there who, if they just knew about them, would be here instead of me,” he says. “But I am grateful that they picked me.”

RESPECT THE HUSTLE

Harris continued working at the Republic Steel Mill in Gadsden, Alabama, while simultaneously honing his electrical craft, doing a bit of work for friends for free. “Of course, you never run out of work if it’s for free,” Harris says. “Then I met this man, and he said, ‘Would you like to learn this work?’ And I said, ‘If you’ll teach me, I’ll work for free.’” That man, electrical contractor David Hood, replied: “You won’t work for free if you work with me.” 

Harris apprenticed with Hood for nearly five years, and the pair remain friends to this day—Hood being 95 years old. “I’m just family [to him], and he is to me,” Harris says. 

Following his apprenticeship with Hood, Harris set out on his own, forming Larry Harris Electric, a well-respected electrical contracting company that he owned and operated for more than 35 years. The group performed electrical installation and repairs in residential, commercial and industrial settings, building a base of repeat and long-term clients along the way—one of the things Harris is most proud of in his more-than-45-year career.

“We were able to keep up two factories for 15 years, and everything that went on—new construction, old-construction repairs—we did it all. The owner said that I always worked miracles in the shop, but really it was just hard work and dedication,” Harris says. “I once worked 37 hours in one weekend without even going outside. They brought our meals into us. So that was hard work, but you just have to do what the job calls for.”

What the job called for, as it turned out, was often 80-hour work weeks with no days off—Monday to Saturday spent doing full-time electrical work, with Sunday as a bookkeeping day to bill clients. When asked if he thinks the incoming generation has this same work ethic, Harris replies: “No, I don’t, but maybe that’s good. Maybe we were too much. I was always trying to satisfy our customers or chasing a buck, and maybe I should have found a happy medium. You need to enjoy life a little bit.”

YOUNG, SCRAPPY AND HUNGRY

For all the long hours and the string of years with no days off, Harris somehow still managed to do just that—enjoy life. One of the things he’s enjoyed most about his 50-year career has been sharing his passion with his family: his wife, Linda, and their two children, Allison and Jason. 

“I think my favorite part of working in this industry is seeing something built from the ground up,” he says, “and you can drive by later and say, ‘I had a major part in that.’” Eventually, the number of buildings Harris pointed out as having had a hand in grew so large that his kids asked him to just show them where he hadn’t worked. Chuckling as he shares the story, Harris says: “I was really excited telling them all this, and I didn’t realize they weren’t all that interested.” 

But he got that part wrong. Like a lot of children, his son and daughter may have rolled their eyes on the outside, but inside, these conversations sparked an interest in construction that only grew stronger with time. Allison now has a career as an interior designer, and Jason followed in Harris’ footsteps and today is a master electrician. “My children are just such an inspiration to me,” Harris says. “They are doing so well, and I feel proud that I’ve played some small part in helping them find fulfillment in a career in this industry.”

Of course, they’re far from the only young lives he’s influenced. The NCCER-credentialed instructor imparts his knowledge and experience daily to his craft students, often sprinkled with nuggets of wisdom along the way. He reminds them daily that they can have all the skill in the world, but in order to be truly successful, good, old-fashioned hard work and a sense of integrity are the real key. “Integrity and honesty go a long way in this world,” Harris says. “I try to make my word my bond. And if I give you my word, if there’s any way—I’m going to keep it.”

When Harris got the call that he’d won Craft Instructor of the Year, his students were among the first to hear the news. Seeing the look on his face, they immediately started applauding. “I’ve got some really great students,” Harris says. He adds: “I’m still not quite able to believe I’ve won this award. I’m honestly shocked and grateful they picked me, and I’ve looked forward to this ever since I got that call. I’ve never had a national award before, but I am excited and humbled by it. I think it’s a fitting way to wind down a career.” 

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