Studies show that electric and natural gas utilities will be facing worker shortages earlier than most other segments of the economy. At PG&E, roughly 42 percent of our employees will become eligible for retirement over the next five years. The demand for technical skills will only increase as PG&E upgrades its infrastructure. Faced with this challenge, we are taking a proactive approach toward workforce development through our new PowerPathway™ program (www.pge.com/powerpathway). Working in partnership with community colleges, local community-based organizations, our unions, workforce investment boards and many other leaders, we are reaching into communities to hire locally, provide promising new career ladders and enhance our role as an integral part of the communities we serve.
Van Ton-Quinlivan is Director of Workforce Strategy and Diversity at PG&E
Laura Sellheim is the Area 3 Director of Maintenance and Construction at PG&E
Peter Crabtree is Dean of Instruction for Vocational Technology at Laney College
Justin Bradley is Director of Energy Programs at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group
Landis Marttila is a Business Representative with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Local 1245
Chuck Carpenter is Director of Building Trades with the Treasure Island Job Corps
Why was the PowerPathway program created?
Ton-Quinlivan: At PG&E, we're looking ahead to make sure we have the skilled workforce that we need. Our goal is to leverage existing infrastructure and institutions within California so that we can build in-state capacity to produce the types of job-ready workers that the company and the industry demand.
We, as an employer, know our jobs and our hiring requirements. We're working with community colleges that have an expertise in training to help prepare candidates for PG&E's pre-employment tests. And, we are mobilizing partners, such as community-based organizations like Job Corps or workforce investment boards, to bring forward their expertise in outreach, assessment and case management of prospective employees.
How do the various partners contribute?
Carpenter: We're a diverse educational and vocational training program, and we're providing candidates by reaching out to members of the Bay Area that have never been employed.
Crabtree: Laney is a training partner and we've just launched our first classes, teaching both technical and "soft" skills. We're looking forward to partnering with PG&E and creating opportunities and a career pathway for people in our area.
Bradley: We represent 270 member companies in Silicon Valley on a wide variety of issues, including workforce development. We want to make sure our region's workforce is productive and we're committed to finding solutions.
Marttila: At IBEW Local 1245, we have what some call a mature bargaining relationship with PG&E. We are certainly interested in having people that live in San Francisco, particularly from the southeast edge of the city, and from throughout the service area, work for PG&E.
What are some of the challenges you see?
Carpenter: We've found that a lot of the people in the Job Corps need "soft" skill training. Providing these candidates with the understanding of how to relate to co-workers or supervisors, for example, is a very important skill to allow them to succeed.
Crabtree: I agree. We still have a long way to go in helping people understand themselves and develop their non-technical abilities. Interpersonal skills are extremely important in today's workplace, and these skills need to be developed just like math, English or technical skills.
What about the importance of teamwork?
Carpenter: At the Job Corps, we put candidates in crews, and you can see them begin to understand what it means to be a member of a team. That's the kind of training we need—teaching people to work as part of a group.
Crabtree: I think that we're really asking our workforce to do something different than we have in the past. Today's employees are expected to make real-time decisions, work together as a team and ask questions. Often, there is no supervisor behind you—you have to think on the job.
Marttila: I think there's an essential satisfaction that gas workers, electrical workers and others in the utility industry get from providing this service, or fixing the problem if the system malfunctions during a storm. It's an intangible that people are proud of; it keeps them motivated to do that extra thing.
How do you address safety?
Crabtree: A lot of our training is hands-on, with equipment, tools and apparatus, so we do a lot of safety work. We make safety not something that you do, but part of who you are.
Carpenter: All of the building trades' candidates at the Job Corps take a 10-hour OSHA course. We talk a lot about near misses. And the teachers, having come from the industry, are very safety conscious.
Sellheim: For me, that's very critical. It makes it much easier for us at PG&E when they come in with that mind-set, given our focus on safety.
What are the keys to success?
Carpenter: Choosing the right candidates is a challenge. But I feel like we're learning more
Sellheim: What will make this program a success is securing dedicated candidates that live locally, stay in our company and work hard along with us.
Marttila: When you have people that stay and become productive workers, it's a great thing. If you have a successful worker that gets through this program, that might cause others to say, "They're not that different from me. I can make it, too."
What will it take for PG&E to become the utility of the future?
Bradley: PG&E, like some of the other companies we work with, can be the proving ground for a lot of people. More broadly, we need to build a more effective workforce infrastructure. Make sure that what you're doing gets linked up with others. Let's connect the region together.
Crabtree: I think what we urgently need, what
will make PG&E the utility of the future, is leadership in the energy field. PG&E is already projecting itself as an industry leader in promoting the development of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency initiatives. PG&E is actively working to change the way we think about energy, how we consume and produce energy. This kind of leadership is what will carry PG&E into the future.
Ton-Quinlivan: Leadership means not only having an aggressive strategy in place to meet the needs of tomorrow, but also leveraging and maximizing the knowledge and talent we have in today's workforce and among our retirees.