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Posted on April 30, 2013

First Lady Recognizes PG&E Employee/Veteran as White House Continues Veterans’ Jobs Push

WASHINGTON, D.C. – First Lady Michelle Obama singled out PG&E employee Erick Varela during a White House event today (April 30) that highlighted a significant milestone in the Joining Forces initiative – a national effort to train and hire military veterans and their spouses.

First Lady Michelle Obama shared the story of Erick Varela, a veteran hired by PG&E through its PowerPathway program. (Varela stands at right with back to camera.)

The First Lady commended American businesses for surpassing a goal set two years ago to hire 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013 as part of the initiative she and Jill Biden launched in 2011.

“Today, I am thrilled to announce that, in less than two years, America’s businesses have hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses — which is almost triple the original goal, with eight months to spare,” she said. “And we are also proud to announce that American companies have committed to hire or train another 435,000 of these men and women over the next five years.”

During her speech, the First Lady singled out several veterans and the private-sector companies that have provided jobs and training, including Varela and PG&E.

Varela & PG&E in the spotlight

Of Varela, she said: “Erick served in combat infantry for the 82nd Airborne Division and was deployed two times to the Middle East. But when he came home to California in the middle of the housing crisis, Erick couldn’t find a job. And soon he and his wife found themselves homeless. Fortunately, Erick was accepted in an electrical apprenticeship program in San Francisco. And even though he and his wife were living out of his pickup truck at that time, Erick was able to pinch enough pennies to buy enough gas to drive to and from that class and finish that program. And today he’s employed full-time at PG&E, even taking on leadership roles within his crew, and now Erick is hoping to buy a home for their growing family. We are so proud.”

PG&E's Erick Varela and John Simon participated in the Joining Forces event at the White House today.

She asked Varela and other veterans whose stories she mentioned to stand as applause filled the room.

Varela came to PG&E through the company’s PowerPathway program, a job-training program in partnership with educational institutions that is designed to help people who are out of work or underemployed due to the economy.

[See a Currents video from earlier this year on a PowerPathway pole-climbing exercise.]

Today, Varela works as an apprentice electrician for PG&E in Eureka.

Back in his hotel room with his wife Katey, who accompanied him on the trip, Varela said he was glad to share the spotlight with PG&E: “I’m happy PG&E got to be on the center front. The only reason why I have a story to tell is because of PG&E.”

Varela said the acknowledgement from the White House validates all the work PG&E has done to help veterans, work that began even before the Joining Forces initiative. “PG&E is a leader in the movement,” he said.

“I love my job. I couldn’t be happier. Every time someone turns on a light switch, I have a direct impact on that,” he said.

John Simon, PG&E’s senior vice president of human resources, who also attended the White House event, stressed the utility’s commitment helping veterans. “We at PG&E have a singular purpose in our commitment to the White House’s Joining Forces initiative – to connect the talented people returning home from serving our county with available jobs that match their unique set of skills,” said Simon. “Through our PowerPathway program, we have been able to leverage public-private partnerships to train and hire our country’s serviceman and women. Of the 150 who graduated from the program’s veterans-only courses, 72 percent have been hired by PG&E or other industry companies.”

President Obama urges continued effort

Before the First Lady took the stage, President Obama talked about the obligation to help veterans as they transition back into civilian life. He said these veterans return from the battlefield highly-skilled and it makes good business sense for companies hire them. “It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the patriotic thing to do,” the president said.

Erick Valera, joined by his wife Katey at the White House today, is a veteran who now works for PG&E thanks to the company's PowerPathway program.

Vice President Joseph Biden and wife Jill also talked about how the work to help veterans and their spouses find jobs must continue.

PG&E has filled 211 vacancies with veterans, 146 of which were outside hires or, about 7 percent of the utility’s total external hires.

Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama thanked PG&E CEO Tony Earley in a letter for the company’s efforts to hire military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition to supporting veterans with jobs, PG&E established a Veterans Employee Resource Group in 2011, designed to support PG&E employees with military experience. More than 300 employees have since joined.

PG&E was also named one of the top 100 military-friendly employers by G.I.Jobs magazine, the second time the utility has been included in the annual rankings.


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