By Tony Khing
DALY CITY — Why does someone go through 16 weeks of instruction for a career in the construction trade, followed by eight weeks of training for a position with PG&E as an electric utility worker? All without getting paid for nearly six months? And with no guarantee of employment upon graduation?
The reason is very simple.
“I’m here for a career and to make a better life for my family,” said Darcell Harrison of Oakland. “I want to do meaningful work that’s helpful to my community.”
Harrison was one of the students who recently graduated from the seventh PG&E PowerPathway training program held in partnership with Oakland’s Cypress Mandela Training Center. Since 2012, the two organizations have developed students for positions in PG&E’s Electric and Gas Operations departments. Nearly 95 percent of the 127 graduates have been hired by PG&E and other utilities and companies such as East Bay Municipal Utility District, AT&T, BART and CalTrans.
This year’s class had a 90 percent diversity rate, a 33 percent female participant rate and 80 percent of the participants lived within 20 miles of Oakland.
“This program means a lot to the company and the community,” said Phillipa Mitchell-Smith, a Bay Area substation superintendent who’s been with PG&E for more than 30 years. “We get to see the diverse candidates who’d like to work for the company while creating diversity in the field.”
Cypress Mandela’s first 16 weeks gave students pre-apprenticeship instruction into construction basics such as framing, working with cement and safety. That was followed by eight weeks of PG&E’s PowerPathway training, which includes hands-on work in Electric Operations, resume building, pre-employment test preparation and developing interview skills and safety certification.
“I wish it would’ve been around when I was looking to get hired,” said Modoc Odom, a PG&E substation construction sub-foreman who worked with the recent PowerPathway graduates out of the Martin substation near the Cow Palace in Daly City.
However, not everyone will qualify for PowerPathway. This year, 82 Cypress Mandela participants interviewed for a seat in the program, but only 21 were accepted. Following graduation in mid-September, IBEW Local 1245 placed 12 as Hiring Hall (or temporary) utility workers in Bay Area substations while four were hired as utility workers in the Transmission Tower Department.
Harrison knew PowerPathway wasn’t going to be easy. His cousin, Eric Wright Jr., went through the same program and now works in Gas Operations for PG&E.
“He told me it was going to be hard,” said Harrison. “He said you’ll feel it isn’t worth it because you’ll be spending a lot of time in the program and not getting paid. But he said to stick with it.”
Ofelia Cisneros knew her classmates were in for some challenges. She took it upon herself to hold study sessions on the weekends to help them get ready for the following week.
“I know it can be scary under the pressure,” she said. “I just wanted to help my peers.”
PowerPathway debuted in 2008 to train the next generation of utility workers. The program is a collaboration between local colleges, the public workforce development system (which includes organizations such as Cypress Mandela) and unions to grow the talent pool of qualified candidates for entry-level positions.
In nearly 10 years, PowerPathway has trained more than 800 students with more than 80 percent obtaining careers with PG&E or the utility industry. Most of the success of PowerPathway has come from its partnership with the company’s human resources recruitment delivery and other company lines of business.
“It prepares them for the actual work they’ll be doing,” said Odom. “It gives them insight into their future careers. It also gives them an understanding of the importance of safety and teamwork.”
And a chance at a bright future with an energy leader. Cisneros has done carpentry and electrical work on a residential and commercial level. But she has her eyes on something else.
“I’ve wanted to come to PG&E,” said Cisneros. “I’m an electrician and this is what I like to do.”
Harrison wants to follow in his cousin’s footsteps. He wants to work in a substation, reach journeyman level, then go back to school and get a better job within PG&E. Harrison calls PowerPathway “a blessing. I thank God every day for the opportunity.”
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.