“You can do a lot if you’re properly trained.” — Queen Elizabeth II

Okay, Queen Elizabeth wasn’t referring to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, one of the largest energy companies in the United States. But the quote applies when talking about an enterprise that has 20,000 employees and serves more than 15 million California customers.

In order to keep the lights on and the gas flowing, PG&E makes sure its employees are provided with up-to-date equipment and educational resources. One of these resources is the company’s training program, which originates from the PG&E Academy, housed within the company’s Human Resources Department.

Depending on how employees enter the company, training can begin during pre-employment. It continues throughout a new hire’s introductory period, and continues after they’ve settled into their roles. It’s also available for workers as they move up the corporate ladder. This helps PG&E’s goal of promoting three-quarters of its leaders from within.

Nearly a decade ago, the company launched its PowerPathway™ program to address a shortage of skilled workers and trained professionals in the utility industry. The program holds introductory training sessions for gas and electric operations and customer service representative positions, and helps prepare potential applicants for job openings.

PowerPathway’s students come from within a 50-mile radius of the training location. “This creates a local, diverse pool of applicants for PG&E who become ambassadors and understand the communities they serve,” said PowerPathway Senior Program Manager Justin Real.

For the last four years, PG&E has partnered with the Oakland, California-based Cypress Mandela Training Center for six PowerPathway training sessions for gas and electric operations utility workers. Since PowerPathway’s inception, 83 percent of the 521 graduates (436) have found work in the utility industry. Of those graduates, 276 (52 percent) are employed at PG&E.

One of the Cypress Mandela graduates is Kiosha Jones, an Oakland resident. She graduated in 2014 and started as a PG&E service representative in her hometown. Jones still works in Oakland, but is now a gas line locate and mark specialist. She works with her fellow residents when they call 811 before digging near gas pipes and electric lines.

5 PGE IMG 3016Former United States Vice President Joe Biden visits a PG&E PowerPathway gas training session for veterans at the Oakland, California, facility.

For continuing education, new and veteran employees have access to the latest online, classroom and field training materials. All employees are required to pass a number of training courses each year. Why does PG&E devote significant time and money into training? It’s to help ensure customer and employee safety.

“If we do our jobs properly,” said Chris Pickett, senior director of the PG&E Academy, “we’re running our company safely. A big part of our program is about helping our employees do their jobs safely for themselves and our customers.”

Safety is a top priority within a major energy company like PG&E. But there are other reasons why a good company training program is important.

Pickett added that PG&E has an obligation to its employees to make them the best they can be. “We have to make sure our employees know how to do the work correctly,” he said. “Without the training programs, you’re relying on tribal knowledge and on-the-job training. That’s not a sound strategy.”

Field employees in electric and gas operations are required to go through state-sponsored apprenticeships that have high requirements. “Our apprentice programs have been designed to support the most critical work that aligns with public and employee safety,” said Pickett.

Plus, regardless of whether they’re in the field or in administration, employees are always looking to improve. A good training program is a major factor in developing and retaining capable, agile and dedicated workers.

“Employees mature throughout their careers and will step up to new opportunities,” said Pickett. “If you’re talking about personal and professional development, it impacts you in your ability to grow from being a good individual contributor to being a great one.” PG&E also has programs to help individuals become successful managers.

To meet this need, PG&E recently introduced an internal career development website. Through this portal, employees can:

• perform self-assessments;
• learn how to develop an internal network;
• gain more experience by taking on added responsibilities;
• take necessary training classes through the PG&E Academy; and
• create a career journey action plan.

The thorough training offerings at the PG&E Academy range from effective communications, to gas leak detection and grading, to annual skills maintenance training for electric operations. But in order to stay current and provide the best training possible, employees rate Pickett’s staff and classes.

Pickett’s team takes the feedback, benchmarks it against 250 external corporate training organizations and cycles it back into their development process to ensure an effective feedback loop.

For example, an electric operations training course had received consistently low, participant-experience scores. The low marks resulted from participants not understanding the reason for the training, how the instruction would improve their performance, and not feeling the class was valuable to their career development.

The course was removed from the curriculum and subject matter experts reviewed the processes and objectives to redesign the class. Since the course was revamped and reinstituted, scores have increased significantly.

“Changes are happening faster because of regulatory requirements and advances in technology,” said Pickett. “As a result, we need to be more nimble with our training approach and reach people in more ways than simply building additional classroom training. Plus, we have an aging workforce. New hires are younger and don’t always bring a lot of experience with them. The programs we offer are vital to our company’s success.”

5 PGE IMG 3464PG&E’s PowerPathway program provides intense training to help students find a position in the utility industry.

The PG&E Academy must be doing something right. Training Magazine recently recognized the Academy for having one of the world’s Top-20 training programs, and for being one of five companies with an outstanding training initiative.

Two programs in particular were ranked among the world’s Top-20. The first is Leading Forward, a comprehensive, eight-part program for leaders designed to build safety skills, and manage operations and developing teams. Leading Forward’s goal is to fill 75 percent of its management vacancies from within the company by 2020.

The second program is the Apprentice Line Worker training course. This course was improved after benchmarking with 14 other utility companies that had apprentice linemen training programs.

The biggest upgrade was enhancing the online portal, which made for easy access and updating of the training manual (which was housed in a three-ring binder) along with how-to videos and guidance documents. The company believes that the changes have contributed to zero lost work days and no motor vehicle incidents among apprentices. Meanwhile, their success and retention rates are at all-time highs.

Finally, PG&E’s training program for core issues in gas operations (known as Super Gas Ops) was named as one of five, outstanding new training initiatives. Super Gas Ops has contributed to more than $1.2 million in savings, due to improvements in job scheduling and reductions in job errors. The training provides end-to-end process awareness, and allows users to quickly access interactive training guides, how-to videos and guidance documents.

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“I’m honored to be part of an organization that creates and maintains a positive work environment through training and employee development,” said Technical Training Instructor Mark Rebello. “As an instructor and facilitator, I have the opportunity to make a direct impact to individual skills and behaviors.”

“I’m proud of the work the PG&E Academy does,” said Pickett. “But we wouldn’t be successful if leadership didn’t acknowledge that training is critical to the company.

“Without leadership support, it’s a large uphill battle for most companies,” concluded Pickett. “Our continued investment in our employees is important. Programs like the ones we offer are vital to our company’s success. We see it as a differentiator — not a cost of doing business.”