By David Kligman
RICHMOND — After 14 years in Gas Operations, Erick Sanchez had an itch to do something different in his career.
He found his opportunity as one of 16 employees selected for a new apprenticeship program training gas corrosion mechanics. It’s the first program of its kind by a U.S. energy company, according to those who manage the program.
The first class graduated earlier this year and two more groups have started the apprenticeship throughout PG&E’s service area. Soon the training will continue at the new Gas Operations Technical Training Center in Winters in Yolo County.
For Sanchez, the apprenticeship allowed him to continue working in Gas Operations while learning new skills, even after he had an established career with PG&E.
“I’ve always liked working with pipelines,” said Sanchez, who is based in Santa Rosa. “I guess you can say I’ve always liked digging around, playing in dirt. It was an opportunity to try something new.”
The apprenticeship program was created to enhance the training and development of corrosion operations — the important job of ensuring that gas mains are structurally sound and furthering PG&E’s efforts to improve safety while embracing innovation and continuous improvement.
The program provides more rigorous learning, combining classroom training with real-life scenarios while working closely with mentors.
It was a major upgrade to previous training for this type of work — just two weeks, followed by on-the-job learning. This new apprenticeship lasts 18 months. Among requirements for the new program: apprentices must pass a timed 100-question test, pass a physical assessment and receive certification from the National Association of Corrosion Engineers, a third-party international organization.
“One of the things we always say is, ‘Rust never sleeps,’” said Maurice Crayton, the training coordinator who helps oversee the program along with Samuel Thomas III. “So we’re always trying to prevent the pipe from going back to nature. We want that pipe to last as long as it can.”
One of the ways a gas corrosion mechanic protects the pipe is to use cathodic protection, a small electric current that’s added to the gas main. It adds a kind of film to protect the steel pipeline from corroding and returning to its natural state.
Several of the graduates recently gathered at the Richmond yard to discuss with ONE PG&E their experiences in the program. They praised the classroom training of John Albano, as well as instruction from corrosion engineering and corrosion operations.
Daryl Brown, a Richmond-based corrosion mechanic, says the difference between the apprentices when they started and when they graduated is simply knowledge.
“At first, they didn’t know,” Brown said. “If you don’t do corrosion, you don’t know corrosion. There’s a lot to learn out there but as long as you ask questions and do the work that’s how you learn.”
Another of the graduates is Torian Wakefield, a PG&E gas veteran now based in Oakland, who is now one of about 80 corrosion mechanics with PG&E. He says he likes the thinking that’s involved with being a corrosion mechanic.
“I like doing this job,” he said. “It’s not so hard on your body. You have to figure out what’s the problem. Having worked in the field helped a lot, having already seen the pipeline in the ground.”
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.