Posted on March 24, 2016

VIDEO: In Washington, PG&E Training Active Military for Utility Careers

By Tony Khing

TACOMA, Wash. U.S. Army Sgt. Miles Barretta faces issues familiar to most military members moving into civilian life.

One question kept coming up for this Modesto native as he started thinking about his discharge date in April: How am I going to make a living?

“I know a lot of people who get out and they don’t know what they’re going to do,” he said.

U.S. Army Sgt. Joko Riley hopes to put his military training to use by working at a utility. (Photo by Tony Khing.)

Barretta, who’s stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, heard about PG&E’s nationally-recognized PowerPathway gas and electric operations training program for the military base’s transitioning service personnel. This program, which is holding the first cohort specifically for active-duty service members at Tacoma-based Bates Technical College, started in February and will conclude in early April.

Barretta’s a technical specialist in the Army and works with gas operations-related equipment. Barretta knows of PG&E and considering his military background, thought he’d be perfect for the cohort.

“The energy industry is never going away. Everyone needs electricity,” said Barretta, who’s one of 16 soldiers and airmen participating in the four-days-a-week training. “I picked this because it’s a gateway to use what I’ve learned in the military and from this course and bring it into the civilian sector.”

Working in the energy industry also gives veterans another opportunity to serve people.

“Moving from serving the country as a soldier, maybe I could serve not the whole country but a whole community and continue my service that way,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Joko Riley, who’s also in the class.

Previous PowerPathway cohorts have focused on developing employees for careers as gas service representatives, linemen and customer service representatives. This time, PG&E’s goal is to hire half of the students for supervisor positions.

“They’ve been leaders in the military. They’ve led crews and managed personnel. They’ve had great responsibility. Bringing them into the company as leaders and as managers is a perfect fit,” said PowerPathway manager Jason Cameron.

Training next generation of utility workforce

PowerPathway debuted in 2008 as a way to develop the next generation of the utility industry workforce. Over the last eight years, nearly 800 people have graduated — including 400 veterans. More than 80 percent of graduates have been hired by PG&E or others in the utility industry.

PG&E is holding its first PowerPathway cohort solely for active military members at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Seattle. (Photo by James Green.)

PG&E’s success with PowerPathway was singled out by Vice President Joe Biden during a visit to a veterans-only training class in Oakland last year. In addition, PG&E’s veteran’s hiring efforts through PowerPathway were recognized at last year’s Electric Power Conference where the company received the Faraday Award.

But receiving accolades from partners in ventures such as this one also is important.

“It’s been a great public-private partnership. Our service members have nothing but great things to say about the training and the support,” said Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Rich Mulryan.

“PG&E’s training program has been outstanding. This gives some solid foundation to provide students a feel for the jobs and the skill sets they require,” said Randall Stearnes, community relations officer for Tacoma Power, one of the five energy providers partnering with PG&E in the training.

The base has held successful cohorts with other industries and wanted to work with the utility industry. That’s how the Center of Excellence for Clean Energy Advisory Board, which is comprised of various Washington state energy utilities and labor, Bates Technical College and Camo2Commerce partnered with PG&E in this training venture.

Everyone has been pleased with the results. Camo2Commerce Project Coordinator Robert Comer said other companies are taking notice of these projects and want to do similar programs.

Future plans

Camo2Commerce, which helps military base’s service members transition into civilian life by providing program management and business and counseling services, fully funded the training by a federal grant and has been pleased with the results. Camo2Commerce project coordinator Robert Comer said other companies are taking notice of these projects and want to do similar programs.

The veterans get to test out old powerhouse switches no longer being used. (Photo by James Green.)

The military base has wanted to work with the energy industry. They’ve previously had successful cohorts with other industries. Based on the program’s success, Cameron said he wants to work with other utilities and bring PowerPathway to military installations such as Camp Pendleton and Fort Irwin in Southern California.

According to Shane Watson, a transition services specialist with the military base, the California bases should eagerly support this idea. Watson said he doesn’t need to contact prospective Washington-based employers to hire transitioning veterans from classes like this one. They find him.

“They come to us because they know the value of a service member,” said Watson. “They’re highly educated, motivated and think outside the box. They’re professional. They see all of these attributes and are interested in bringing that into their corporation.”

“We’re hard workers. We show up on time. We’re ready to give 100 percent every single day on the job,” said Barretta. “It’s what we do.”

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