By David Kligman
OAKLAND — For several years, PG&E has partnered with the White House and the Obama Administration on workforce and economic development initiatives, helping long-term unemployed Americans, small and diverse business owners, military veterans and others.
Today (April 10), PG&E demonstrated one of its biggest workforce development successes. Vice President Joe Biden, on a two-day trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, paid a visit to the utility’s Oakport facility to meet military veterans studying gas pipeline safety as part of PG&E’s PowerPathway program.
In the program’s six years, 600 people — including 300 veterans — have graduated, and more than 80 percent have been hired by PG&E or elsewhere in the utility industry.
Upon arriving, Biden praised PG&E Chairman and CEO Tony Earley.
“Tony, you’ve got a hell of an outfit here,” the vice president said as he kicked off a roundtable discussion with nine members of the latest PowerPathway class, who are all veterans. And he added that the training is like a “mini-degree.”
“The thing that PG&E is doing is setting the framework for a lot of other big companies, not just utility companies,” he said while seated among the students, Earley, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Tom Dalzell, business manager for IBEW Local 1245. “I want to personally thank PG&E not only for hiring but the way you’re going about it.”
President Obama last year appointed Biden to head the “Ready to Work” initiative that reforms America’s workforce training programs. The goal, as Obama said at the time, is to “train Americans with the skills employers need and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.”
PG&E’s PowerPathway is such a program — one that’s training the next generation of the utility workforce.
Earley greeted Biden at the yard where the latest PowerPathway class will graduate May 2. Also in attendance was Laura Butler, PG&E’s vice president of talent management and chief diversity officer.
One by one the students described how they came to the PowerPathway program, where they are being trained as damage prevention specialists to check for gas pipeline corrosion and ensure pipelines are properly coated. After their graduation, they will become the first PowerPathway group to move on to a paid internship where they will receive additional training and certification from the National Accreditation for Corrosion Engineering.
Orlando Jones of Sacramento told Biden he hopes the program will lead to a full-time job so that he can send his daughter to college.
“I’m in awe and very fortunate to be a part of this program,” Jones said. “It’s allowing me to gain this marketable skill set so I can go into this industry and have a career path.”
PG&E began PowerPathway in 2008 by establishing private-public collaborations to create a pipeline of qualified candidates for PG&E and the utility industry. Program enrollment is limited, and the screening process is rigorous.
Students receive 240 hours of training so that they have the skills necessary to effectively compete for utility jobs. They’re taught everything from math skills to how to safely use tools. This year, programs will be offered in Bakersfield, Fresno, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.
PowerPathway has expanded to include courses geared toward military veterans and women, as well as specialty courses on climbing power poles and welding. Other courses focus on electric line work and gas utility work.
This isn’t the first time Biden has seen PowerPathway’s success firsthand. In January 2014, he watched as PG&E apprentice electrician Erick Varela introduced President Obama during a White House event on long-term unemployment. Varela, a military veteran, graduated from PG&E’s PowerPathway Bridge to Utility Worker program.
“We’re proud to show Vice President Biden and Mayor Schaaf the commitment PG&E has to training our nation’s veterans, and many others, for successful careers in the utility industry,” Earley said. “PowerPathway is one of the ways PG&E is building the workforce that will help power California’s future.”
The current class at the Oakport yard is made up of 15 veterans representing the Navy, Marines, Army, Coast Guard and Air Force.
Among them is Liz Torres, who later introduced the vice president before his prepared remarks.
She said she was nervous when leaving the Marine Corps, where she spent six years as an aircraft technician, including a stint in Afghanistan. She was unsure if she would be able to earn a steady paycheck. Now she has hope, thanks to the program.
“I’ve learned so much about the PG&E gas system,” said Torres, born and raised in San Francisco. “There’s nothing more I’d love than to be employed by PG&E.”
As for meeting the vice president, she said it was a dream.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “Little me meeting the vice president.”
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.