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PG&E: Creating a Pool of Skilled Energy Job Applicants

Posted on 10/23/2012


Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), one of the largest combination natural gas and electric utilities in the United States, employs some 20,000 persons to provide energy services for 15 million users over 70,000 square-miles in northern and central California. Like many in the energy industry, PG&E is concerned about finding work-ready applicants. The emergence of green energy technologies for which neither incumbent nor new workers are prepared complicates its search. To help individuals in its nearby communities acquire the skills for jobs in the energy and utilities industries, PG&E and its partners launched the PowerPathway™ (www) program to cultivate industry-informed career pathways into such jobs.

PG&E created a partnership (pdf) with local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) and community colleges to supply pre-employment services by providing customized, skilled craft training. PG&E's initial goal was to fill 70 positions and graduate three cohort classes of 25 applicants each from three locations. When the program was first posted, PG&E received over 4,000 applications generally from people in local, under-served communities with at least 10th-grade-level mathematics and English skills. The WIBs screen, pre-test, advise and support potential applications to PG&E. Three community colleges provide 10- to 12-week training courses, developed and customized jointly with PG&E. General courses include mathematics, reading, physical conditioning, industry awareness, and compliance with Occupational Health and Safety Administration guidelines. Once applicants are signed up for classes, they receive Individual Training Account funds from their WIBs to support their educations. Upon successful completion of the program, graduates receive certificates of completion from both the college and the PowerPathway™ program, and are considered work-ready candidates for career opportunities within the energy sector.

Recognizing the need for qualified applicants across California's extended energy industry, PG&E invited other energy employers to tap the talent pool. Although there is no guarantee of a job, graduates of PowerPathway™ fare better in the hiring process than do typical applicants. From 2008 to 2010, the PowerPathway Skilled Crafts Training Network trained over 160 individuals across seven Bridge to Pre-Apprentice/Utility Worker programs; 104 were hired into industry-related positions, including 88 at PG&E, at wages ranging from $19.50 to $35 an hour. The PG&E supervisors who worked with the graduates said that they would hire other PowerPathway™ graduates and rated their hiring satisfaction at 4.6 out of 5.0. PG&E is also seeing PowerPathway™ hires advance, on average, six months ahead of their peers in apprenticeship progression. According to PG&E's calculations, this equates to a $30,000 savings in time-to-productivity, based on salary alone. Currently, with 28 employees meeting that criterion, the return is over 3-to-1 on the investment. PowerPathway™ also engenders significant intangible benefits in the form of community goodwill and increased diversity.

From the OVAE Connection (www), newsletter of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U. S. Department of Education, October 4, 2012 with information and excerpts from Corporate Voices for Working Families ©2011.

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