Reaching Into High Schools to Train the Next Generation of Utility Workers

P4A Programs in MI and Chicago Provide Union Career Paths

The UWUA’s Power for America Training Trust (P4A) continues to break new ground in fulfilling its mission, re-energizing careers in existing industries and training an emerging new, unionized workforce for tomorrow’s energy sector.

With its outreach to high school students in Michigan and Chicago, P4A is opening new opportunities for those who are curious about what a career in the utility sector could mean for them. And some recent high school graduates of P4A’s training programs are already enjoying the benefits of good-paying union jobs with lifelong career opportunities.

Power for America instructor Dale Walczak.

“Before I graduated high school I had the opportunity to gain experience working with Local 18007 Gasworkers and Peoples Gas. It was a big thing for a kid my age,” says Giovanni Delgado, who successfully completed the P4A training program in Chicago in 2018 and is now a UWUA member working at the gas company. “I’ve had a very different experience compared to other teenagers and I’m grateful to the program, especially my trainers who prepared me for the work I am doing now.”

In addition to the work P4A is doing in four Chicago public high schools, it is building a successful program at a high school in Holt, MI. There, working with the Michigan State Utility Workers Council (MSUWC) and Consumers Energy, students are being taught using the rigorous Energy Industry Fundamental (EIF) curriculum.

“Our outreach to high schools to start prepping kids and building a pipeline for a union career in utilities is an important advancement for P4A,” explains Executive Director Jonathan Harmon. “There’s a lot of talk about getting the next generation of utility workers ready. We’re undertaking a huge push to let young people know that you don’t have to go to college to have a career, that you can have a good middle-class life and support your family with a union job in the industry.”

Giovanni Delgado trains to become a Local 18007 gas worker working at Peoples Gas while in high school.

Training the next generation

On Wednesday mornings for two hours, Holt students travel to P4A’s Potterville, MI facility to participate in basic training activities in electric, natural gas and power generation. They learn about the daily activities of an electric lineman and natural gas worker as well as safety topics that include excavation safety, personal protective equipment, traffic zone protection and first aid/CPR basics. This year’s class is the third group to go through the program.

At the end of the semester, they receive high school class credit and take the EIF national certification exam.  If they pass the exam, they receive a certificate recognized by Edison Electric Institute members as having the basic knowledge of how energy works. This ensures that potential workers gain an understanding of the energy industry, the careers available, and the education and training to enter and advance in those careers. The certificate will give them an advantage in getting a job with a utility company as EEI is recognized as a leader in the field.

Holt High School EIF graduate Grace Millbauer says of her experience, “It’s a great way to learn about possible careers in energy and get hands on experience at the same time. We have met so many new people and had a chance to network.”

Holt students are taught by Dale Walczak, a retired UWUA member working at P4A’s Potterville center. Utility workers training utility workers is part of the UWUA’s commitment to ensuring its members are the safest, most productive, highest skilled workers in the world and the union being the go-to organization for skills and safety training in the industries where it represents workers.

“It’s good to see that we have high school students who have the enthusiasm and are thinking about a career in the energy fields,” Walczak says. “With this program we are proving that we care about the next generation of utility workers and are able to train them for future careers. I don’t know of anyone else other than the UWUA that would take the time, the effort and make the investment to pull this all together.”

Chicago program extended

In Chicago, P4A is spearheading the high school program in partnership with Local 18007 and Peoples Gas. There, the final phase of the multi-year program requires students to spend up to eight hours on Saturday for nine weeks at the Peoples Gas training facility. As in Michigan, the P4A instructors are all retired UWUA members who teach the students the basics of gas distribution and service work. The training often mirrors what an entry-level worker receives in their first year of employment. Students who successfully complete the program are eligible to be hired by Peoples Gas into entry-level positions immediately after high school.

In the classroom learning first aid/CPR basics.

“Being a union worker for utilities is a lifelong career,” says Local 18007 President Tim Jaroch. “The program we have with P4A and Peoples Gas will keep our union local in touch with schools and help us grow with qualified, experienced young members who understand the importance of the union and want to stay and make a career out of it.”

This January, the third group of students started this program. The first two groups included some who have taken jobs with Peoples Gas and are now Local 18007 members.

“Young men and women need opportunities outside of going to college and we show them a path to a lifelong career,” says Chicago instructor Brian Murray, a retired UWUA member who also trains veterans as part of the UWUA’s Utility Workers Military Assistance Program (UMAP). “We show them the real deal when it comes to doing the work and the importance of the union. Some really grasp onto it.”

The program was recently renewed and will now go through 2023, benefitting more Chicago-area students.

Local 18007 Business Manager Adrian Duenas was an instructor for the first class. “These kids show a lot of dedication, volunteering to spend their Saturdays with us between January and April. Many have jobs making minimum wage. In the end, if they check all the boxes, they have a job, a career for life,” he says. “They come from blue collar families but maybe their parents don’t work in a union industry. We teach them union history, the eight-hour work day, how unions are instrumental in promoting safety. That’s all part of unions. The company didn’t set those standards. The union fought for them.”

“My instructors, Adrian and Brian, were a huge help for me in my career,” says Giovanni Delgado. “They made our jobs 10 times easier. We were steps ahead when we walked in the door at work. I am extremely thankful for what the union did for me when I was in high school.”

As for what’s next, P4A executive director Harmon says, “I would really like to expand our high school programs out into other gas and electric utilities we work with, and include those in water, and renewables as well.

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