The School District of Philadelphia and the PECO Workforce Development Team have spearheaded a new partnership that is helping introduce resources and provide access to sustainable jobs.
The first program phase helping lead the way is PECO’s ‘Explorers Program,’ which is a worksite-based program that focuses on personal growth and long-term goal setting as part of the Learning for Life’s career education program under the Cradle of Liberty Council.
These objectives include resume writing, developing business plans and creating pathways to internships for Philadelphia high school students, with a particular emphasis on underserved students.
The second phase is PECO’s ‘Helper Pool Pre-Apprenticeship Program,’ which helps prepare individuals ages 18-21 to apply for and succeed in energy jobs.
The 14-week program begins at competitive rates of $20.76 hourly and provides each participant with a mentor to shadow and learn all necessary hands-on training needed to succeed within the energy sector. Participants engage in safety courses that consist of electric and gas basics, technical maintenance, and other essential skills. In addition, participants take the construction and skilled trades exam and become CDL-certified as part of the program.
Students younger than 18 that are a part of the Explorers Program have a unique jumpstart while still in school, which is a direct pathway into the Helper Pool Pre-Apprenticeship Program that can lead to a 24-month apprenticeship for the chance of long-term employment in the field.
Technical Operations Manager Keith Henderson of the PECO Workforce Development Team says this initiative has been something he has pushed for and proposed to his leadership staff for more than 10 years before its launch to recruit local talent.
“If we’re going to talk about DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) and making the company look like the communities we serve, we need to put our best foot forward,” Henderson stated. “The other great thing about the Helper Program is that you don’t have to pass the CAST (Construction and Skills Trade) test and AMO (Assistance Mechanical Operating) test to get into this program. We offer 8-10 weeks of prep.”
Students at Mastbaum and West Philadelphia high schools have taken full advantage of these opportunities, including West Philadelphia High School graduate DeShawn Goodwin — who is now in the PECO Apprenticeship program at the company’s Berwyn location, a part of the branch FIN (Fix It Now) team.
“We do a lot of leaks. We do a lot of mains. If something goes wrong at any point with pipes, we have to go outside and fix it,” he said.
Goodwin credits CTE Career Awareness Specialist Jonathan Jacobs from the school district and West Philly High School CTE instructor Marie Wilkins-Walker for raising awareness of the PECO program during his senior year.
“I enjoy doing what I do now. I get to help people around. I basically help people fix up what goes wrong in their house. Right now, I’m in gas. I’ve been in electric. I love both sides. I just love to help people at this point,” Goodwin added.
Goodwin, who lived in South Philly, said he would walk to West Philly down 23rd Street to Market Street everyday, using the PECO building as his halfway mark, and telling the time from the top of the building clock when he didn’t have a phone.
He says he never envisioned that same company building would now be the company he works for as an electrician and in gas mechanics with a stable financial future.
On average, Henderson says the program receives over 750 applicants during new enrollment periods, in which they narrow down their candidate pool to 110 interviewees. Those interviewees get selected roughly in groups of 25-30 participants to complete and be part of that graduating cohort class.
Henderson hopes that PECO’s efforts will encourage other companies to create programs geared toward recruiting and investing in local talent within the Philadelphia public school system.
“Again, it’s us trying to level the playing field here at PECO. My team and I are challenging senior leadership. Let’s not just say we do DEI. Let’s show we do it.”