“I think it has been a missed opportunity for utilities. Throughout the United States, we need to find ways to educate communities that these jobs are out there.”
That quote comes from Steve Magenheimer, training director at PowerTown Line Construction, in a Neal Awards finalist article in the category Best DEI Coverage—titled Diversity in the Line Trade by Amy Fischback in Endeavor Business Media’s T&D World. (The Neal Awards ceremony takes place April 26 at the Marriott Marquis in NYC.)
The story highlights a program that saw Duke Energy join forces with a local contractor and community partners to launch a new certification program at St. Petersburg (Fla.) College. “The 14-week program empowers people from different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities to discover the life-changing career of line work,” Fischback writes. “The utility invested $100,000 into the facility, classroom materials and instructor and $30,000 for the equipment at St. Petersburg College to expose the students to line work.”
This article gets so much right, in embodying a changing industry and changing America, and showing why the Neal Awards still matter so much in recognizing these stories and sharing them with the industry.
“I think it has been a missed opportunity for utilities. Throughout the United States, we need to find ways to educate communities that these jobs are out there.” You can probably substitute any of our niches for “utilities” in that article. Here are more specific things the article gets right for Endeavor.
It talks about the importance of breaking down walls. About 70% of the students in the program are people of color—and one student was female. (That is a good start for a very male-dominated industry.) “In the past, a lot of the prescreening and testing positioning the top candidates requires them to have some background in the trade,” said Barry Anderson, Duke Energy’s regional senior vice president of customer delivery in Florida. “For example, they may have a family member who was a line worker. That puts the minorities at a disadvantage. We are trying to break the wall down, expose them to the craft and give them the sense of what it takes to do the work.”
Leave old constraints behind. In the Editorial Council Meeting I ran a couple weeks ago on recruitment and retention (the recording and transcript are here – passcode .0TbpUvL), Kathy Lu, founder of Audiencibility, spoke about the exact same thing as Anderson in the editorial field—that publishers and media companies need to take a close look at their job qualifications, especially for internships. Any language that contains biases or limits your pool should be removed. Lu cited one Washington Post example that required their interns to have major news outlet experience.
Use great photography. There are multiple “real” photos of line workers of color, including a woman and a classroom shot. I’ve written here before of the power of using our own industry’s faces, rather than canned shots, when possible. The pictures convey both the seriousness of this job—climbing poles with a hook—and the joy these workers have of their camaraderie and being outside on a sunny day.
Build a relationship with local colleges. This also was stressed in the Editorial Council meeting. “We’ve had a very high percentage of interns that we have transitioned into full-time employees,” said Jennifer Perkins, VP, HR & talent development, Farm Journal. “And that really helps us whenever it comes time for us to search. These are paid internships [at University of Wisconsin and University of Missouri]. It just really helps us with that network and helps that recognition for us.” Lu urged publishers to consider community colleges. “You can start small with one intern; don’t feel like you need to develop a whole program right away,” she said. “You’re essentially developing your own pipeline of talent.”
Find the best in your community. Fischback is the field editor for T&D World Magazine. What’s also great about her article is that she frames the issue as solving industry needs—not just as a diversity issue. “As Anderson looks ahead, he sees the students filling the work boots of the growing number of linemen who plan to retire in St. Petersburg and Orlando, Florida. He says seeing the pole yard at St. Petersburg College up and running was a memorable moment. Duke Energy’s linemen helped to install 30 poles with different wire sizes and connections.” It’s clear that it’s a collaborative and worthwhile effort.