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Posted on August 28, 2013

Students Devote Weeks Learning Gas Work in Hopes of PG&E Career

By David Kligman

OAKLAND — Students who could be PG&E’s next gas utility workers showed their skills today (Aug. 28) at a demonstration that will culminate next month in their graduation from a two-month training to develop employees ready to help make PG&E the safest and most reliable utility.

Students show how they would dig a hole to access an underground pipeline. (Photos by David Kligman.)

At PG&E’s Oakland yard, the 19 students used spaders and shovels to dig bell holes big enough to reach a gas pipeline. They used a technique to squeeze plastic pipeline to demonstrate temporarily shutting off a gas line in the event of a leak, repair or pipeline extension. And they showed how they would run a residential gas service.

“When people need service, you’re the superhero to turn their gas and electricity back on,” said Andrew Center, one of the 19 students. “You’re like their life line.”

Center, like many of his fellow students, have devoted weeks to the training in the hopes of working for PG&E or another utility. Many discovered the training after losing jobs to budget cuts or working jobs with little or no future.

Nearly all the students actually transitioned to the PowerPathway Bridge to Gas Utility Worker class after a four-month pre-apprentice construction course with Cypress Mandela, an Oakland-based training organization that partners with PG&E.

Prospective employers attend demonstration

Also observing the demonstration were community partners looking for qualified employees. Among them was Benicia-based Underground Construction, one of PG&E’s major contractors.

Student Sharon Ward of Antioch meets PG&E's James Morante, who oversees the PowerPathway program.

Before the event had even started, executive vice president George Bradshaw had scheduled interviews with five of the students. He said it makes sense to hire from a group that already has the training necessary to immediately start work.

“Most of our guys learned through the school of hard knocks,” Bradshaw said. “These guys have the skills that have set them up for success.”

Rooting on the students is Cypress Mandela executive director Art Shanks, who encouraged hiring the students to help PG&E, their communities and their families.

“We’re taking young people that maybe would never have the opportunity to segue into PG&E,” Shanks said. “We’re looking for the key to success and the future. I think this is the epitome of it right here. When we look at these young people who are ready, I say we give them a shot. They struggled, they did an excellent job, they deserve a little light at the end of the tunnel.”

PowerPathway has trained hundreds

This is the second gas training course through PowerPathway, which recently celebrated its fifth year. In just six weeks, the students are trained in the fundamentals of PG&E’s gas system, motor vehicle safety, industrial ergonomics, wire splicing, environmental regulations, excavating and finding and marking the locations of gas pipelines.

Demonstrations included two different ways of establishing residential gas service.

PowerPathway has trained some 400 students through 14 programs, including courses for women utility workers, veterans, welding and climbing power poles. Of those students, PG&E has hired more than half.

Leading the instruction for the gas course is retired PG&E general construction supervisor Mike Alves, who applauded the students for their dedication. The students don’t get paid to take the course and many continue to work part-time jobs, meaning long hours and little family time.

“They are just go-getters and everything,” Alves said. “And they’re the same guys that spend eight to nine hours a day here and then they have to go to work and then they’re in the parking lot sleeping to come back. They’re over the top.”

Oakland’s Justin Richardson, one of the students, said the opportunity for a steady job with good pay and a chance to build a career is worth the hard work. But he also said he wants to join the team working to improve the safety of PG&E’s gas pipeline system.

“There was a time when everyone looked at PG&E like they were heroes,” Richardson said. “I want to bring that back. I want to be part of that.”

The group graduates on Sept. 6.

Email David Kligman at

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