PECO is siphoning pipeline workers from community colleges - Technical.ly Philly

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Aug. 7, 2017 10:47 am

PECO is siphoning pipeline workers from community colleges

The energy company has a lot of pipe to replace in the next two decades. Local students are being trained to do the job.

Delaware Community College students in the Gas Distribution Pipeline Mechanic Introduction Program.

(Photo courtesy of PECO)

This story is part of Grow PA, a reported series on economic development across 10 Pennsylvania counties underwritten by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. Sign up for our weekly curated email here.

PECO has a pipeline problem, and it’s looking to a consortium of community colleges for a fix.

The Exelon-owned energy company owns over 9,000 miles of gas line in the region that will need to be replaced within the next two decades. The job will require over 600 gas distribution pipeline mechanics, according to Jim Fox, executive director of Workforce Development at Montgomery County Community College.

In a state where talent can be simultaneously produced and retained, finding and training workers to fill those jobs might not seem daunting on the surface.

But what about a state like Pennsylvania, suffering from brain drain, an aging population and a five percent unemployment rate? Where does one in the Greater Philadelphia find 600 pipeline mechanics?

It’s the kind of “large regional need” that led to the creation of the Collegiate Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development, a collection of local institutions that work closely with one another and with regional employers to develop local skilled workers and fill gaps in the local workforce.

The consortium is comprised of six regional colleges:

  • Montgomery County Community College
  • Camden County College
  • Community College of Philadelphia
  • Delaware County Community College
  • Bucks County Community College
  • Drexel University

This is the fifth time the consortium has worked with PECO since it was founded in 1994, said Fox.

PECO, which typically leans on subcontractors to repair its gas distribution pipelines, is working “hand-in-hand” with the consortium to train and certify students over the course of nine weeks.

“We’ve worked really closely with [county] workforce development boards to identify underemployed and unemployed individuals who need to get to work right away,” said Fox. “We’ve targeted high school students that were planning a gap year or indicated to their counselors they’re not going to college and not going into the military.”

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After nine weeks of intensive, hands-on training, the students in the program are then placed in entry-level union jobs that pay between $24–$26 an hour.

There’s no guarantee that students will be placed after obtaining their certifications and completing the program, but Fox said the placement rate is over 80 percent.

“The impact is local,” he said. “The subcontractors we work with are local and the students are placed in jobs within the region.”

Ten students are in MCCC’s gas distribution pipeline mechanic program this summer.

“The key outcome is the ability to make a family-sustaining wage in a job that is anticipated to be around [for a while],” said Fox. “We’re talking about 20–30 years of implementation within a relatively stable employment opportunity.”

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