Posted on November 14, 2013

VIDEO: Sparks Fly as Oakland Students Learn One of PG&E’s Most Demanding Skills

By David Kligman

OAKLAND — Ben Williams had lost his job as a computer animator when he saw a Craigslist ad for a welding class at Oakland’s Laney College.

But this wasn’t just any welding course. It was the first of its kind organized by PG&E to teach one of the most important and hardest skills to perfect in the utility industry — gas transmission pipeline welding.

Welding technology instructor Dale Phillips explains why welding pipeline is so difficult.

“It’s just so demanding and there are a lot of people out there that can weld on flat plate but when it comes to doing open root pipe welds they just fall short,” said Phillips.

PG&E’s PowerPathway program is partnering with Laney College to help train welders who could end up working for the utility.

Partnership benefits PG&E, Laney College

The partnership is an ideal arrangement. PG&E needs skilled welders and Laney College has a welding lab that dates to World War II. It’s also one of the most advanced welding facilities in the utility’s service area, including a specialized compressor that allows them to use oxygen and natural gas to cut metal.

The free class is popular. Students must be working welders or have advanced welding skills. Of the 100 who applied, only 15 were invited to take part.

Laney College dean Peter Crabtree, left, and instructor Dale Phillips discuss new equipment that PG&E has provided to the college.

To thank Laney College, PG&E has funded $45,000 in new equipment for the college.

Among the equipment PG&E paid for is this hood ventilation system that clears the air of welding fumes and saves energy by only running when it detects welding.

Elsewhere in the lab, this special machine cuts a bevel in large diameter pipe that helps create a secure weld.

“This partnership with PG&E really helped us advance the cause of teaching pipe welding,” said Peter Crabtree, dean of academic and student affairs at Laney College.

PowerPathway helping find new employees

The class is one of the many unique ways PG&E is finding its next generation of employees. Other PowerPathway classes have focused on climbing power poles and training women utility workers.

“It’s critical that we’re matching up curriculum and matching up the needs of the community, but also the industry,” said Justin Real, a PowerPathway program manager for PG&E. “We have to think about these programs as not just for PG&E but also for the industry as a whole.”

Now back to Williams, the beginning welder who wanted a new career. He did so well in the five-month class that he was one of only three students to receive an offer to work at PG&E.

The day before he was to begin his first day on the job as a gas utility worker he returned to the classroom to brush up on his skills.

“Being a welder for PG&E is probably one of the most difficult and challenging types of welding,” Williams said. “And it has to be perfect because people’s lives depend on it.”

His welding skills will soon come in handy as PG&E continues to work toward making its gas pipeline system the safest in the country.

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"PG&E" refers to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation.
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