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How Community Partnerships Help Fuel the Talent Pipeline

What can we accomplish better together than alone?

This question–central to the work of CEWD–often refers to the now-routine practice of statewide collaboration and best practice sharing among the nation’s energy companies. But that’s at the macro level. Look within energy companies, and you’ll also find a growing number of partnerships blossoming within the communities they serve.

Such partnerships–bringing together utilities, contractors, local governments, and social/wraparound service agencies–are helping to fuel the talent pipeline in numerous ways. Here are a few examples of partners energy companies are working with and how these alliances are benefiting everyone involved:

Nicor Gas Career Academy

Nicor Gas learned the value of partnerships through a statewide program in Illinois known as CONSTRUCT. This 11-week energy job readiness program brought together all of the state’s utilities as well as more than 30 contractors, producing well-prepared candidates for the energy industry. But CONSTRUCT ran only one cohort each year, and with 40 percent of Nicor Gas’s workforce getting ready to retire, “We needed more than that,” said Margi Schiemann, Nicor Gas Director of Community Affairs.

So the gas company got together with its contractor partner, NPL Construction Company, along with IBEW Local 19 and the Quad County Urban League to create its own Career Academy. Starting with the CONSTRUCT model, they pulled out units on skills their candidates would not need, such as pole climbing or how to pass the CAST test, and added units specific to natural gas, whittling the program down to six weeks.

Partnering with the Urban League allowed Nicor Gas to reach a diverse group of candidates in the heart of its service area, said Schiemann. “They have access to populations we would not otherwise easily reach.”

The Urban League recruits students from four counties in Nicor Gas’s service area through community colleges, high schools, churches, other nonprofit organizations and workforce agencies. Once a cohort is registered, they also provide classroom space and help guide the students through the entire six weeks. Nicor Gas and contractor employees also teach segments of the curriculum, including industry fundamentals and job-specific skills and provide shadowing and hands-on experiences.

“I consider this program very successful,” said Schiemann. “The number of quality hires is the main metric.”

The Nicor Gas Career Academy has run three cohorts since it launched in 2018, she said. Two additional contractors joined the program after the first cohort. Of its 54 graduates, 23 are currently working for Nicor Gas or one of its contractors and more are in the process of being interviewed.

“We want them to want to work for our partners, as well,” said Schiemann. “The more our contracting partners hire from the program, the more the stories get out about the benefits and enjoyment of working for those companies. They are very solid, stable companies with great jobs and career paths.”

Contractor NPL was able to hire graduates from two of the cohorts. One graduate with strong computer skills is working as a construction support representative and another is reviewing bid documents and contracts for NPL’s sewer camera verification team, said Justin Brown, Director of Operations for NPL.

“We are very impressed with the knowledge these two bring to the table,” he said. “These graduates came to us ready to work, knowing our standards for safety and quality. That reduces a lot of the risk and resources typically associated with onboarding a new employee. We are able to deploy these graduates faster with a strong sense of confidence, which ultimately helps us serve our customers better.”

Pepco Holdings/DC Infrastructure Academy

In Washington, D.C., Pepco found working closely with contractors proved a crucial ingredient for success.

Pepco works in partnership with five of its contractors, the District of Columbia government and several community organizations to prepare Washington, D.C. residents for energy infrastructure careers through a life-changing program that does much more than provide job training, said David Vosvick, Vice President of Human Resources for Pepco Holdings.

“This is a pathway to the middle class,” said Vosvick, who noted the DC Infrastructure Academy, launched last year, had become a national model for lifting people out of poverty. It’s able to do so precisely because the entire community works together to provide wraparound social services in addition to job training. And, more importantly, it offers the guarantee of a job.

“By locking arms with five of our contractors, we are able to guarantee that everyone who successfully completes the program will find a placement,” said Vosvick. “And these aren’t minimum wage jobs. These are career jobs that we’re offering.”

The 12-week program provides safety training, workforce readiness skills, resume building, a physical ability test, introduction to a company code of business conduct and a technical component for operating bucket trucks, in addition to help preparing for the CAST test. The Academy is located in Ward 8, an underserved community in the District, and pays students $10 an hour while they attend.

Contractors come to the classes and speak with students about the jobs they have to offer. Pepco also sends representatives, who talk not just about their own company, but the value they place on their contracting partners. It is this unified front – and the promise of employment with one of these companies – that keeps students coming back, regardless of how they perform on the CAST test, said Vosvick.

“We are all-in with these people,” he said. And the investment is paying off. Of 26 students initially enrolled, 22 graduated last fall and all were offered jobs. Half of them now work for Pepco.

OPPD/Legacy I3 Initiative

The Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) launched the Legacy I3 initiative three years ago. Modeled after a program that Deon Clark developed in Arizona and has since replicated in Minnesota, Legacy I3 is a collaboration between employers, secondary and post-secondary schools, government and community organizations all geared toward providing high school seniors from underserved communities with the job readiness, support services and technical training they need to follow an energy career path.

“It’s a model that says, ‘Who’s really good at providing wraparound services, education, job training, etc.? Now let’s work together and build a pipeline,” said Joyce Cooper, Director of Diversity and Inclusion.

Students attend classes after school and on Saturdays. The curriculum at the high school level includes character development, behavior modification, decision making, critical thinking, leadership training, personal health and wellness, resume writing and even dining etiquette.

Students can also avail themselves of services provided through a network of community organizations providing crucial wraparound services that often benefit their entire family. Without these services, some students would be unable to take part in the program, said Cooper.

For example, the Heart Ministry Center provides food, clothing and bus passes to students, making sure they don’t have to be distracted by worries over hunger or how they will get to class.

“This is an important partner so these things don’t create barriers for students that prevent them from doing well in school or from doing well on the job,” said Cooper. “It’s kind of hard to think long term if you don’t have food today. It’s hard for them to listen to companies saying, ‘Look, we have all these great opportunities,’ but they don’t have a way to get there.”

“It’s critical that people not be left out of job opportunities at OPPD because basic needs aren’t being met.”