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This is the second year of PECO's Helper Pool Pre-Apprenticeship Program. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News.
This is the second year of PECO's Helper Pool Pre-Apprenticeship Program. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News.

PECO's Helper Pool Pre-Apprenticeship Program welcomes its second cohort

The program specifically aims to provide jobs and skills training, while removing barriers to workforce entry for underserved and underrepresented communities.

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PECO is playing a critical role in helping diversify the energy sector across the Philadelphia area. 

On Monday, July 25, PECO introduced 21 new individuals into its Helper Pool Pre-Apprenticeship Program. 

Launched in 2021, the program specifically targets job seekers from underserved and underrepresented communities and is designed to remove barriers to workforce entry by introducing new participants into the organization, and the region’s energy sector. 

“We have a need right now in the energy sector for new folks,” Keith Henderson, manager of technical operations for workforce development at PECO, told AL DÍA

He noted that the industry has been losing a number of its workers in recent years due to factors such as age, attrition and retirement.

Henderson believes the Helper Pool Pre-Apprenticeship Program serves as a great opportunity to tap into demographics that have historically not been reached. 

Black and Latinx communities have both been underrepresented in this industry.

According to data from the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), Black and Latinx Americans make up 8% and 16% of energy workers in the U.S., respectively. This is compared to making up 12% and 18%, respectively, of the overall U.S. labor force.

The Helper Pool Pre-Apprenticeship Program aims to address this underrepresentation in the Philadelphia region. A large part of that is by bringing awareness to the fact that these career opportunities are available.  

The program lasts 14 weeks, and each participant is provided with a mentor who guides them as they get equipped with the necessary hands-on training to be successful on the job, with the goal of that then leading to family-sustaining careers for the participants. 

Mike Innocenzo, PECO President and CEO, highlighted the importance of mentorship.

“Sometimes when you’re new to an organization, it’s not enough to just get hired, you need someone to help you along the way,” he said.  

The program also serves to break down barriers to entry into the industry. 

“We broke down barriers like you didn’t need a driver’s license — but you need to be able to get that driver’s license in nine months — we took down barriers such as having to pass entrance exams,” said Henderson.

“What we found that we were successful with is we actually provided training and prepped folks that came in so that they would be successful in those exams,” Henderson added.

The goal thereafter would be to then apply for an apprenticeship, go through a series of rotations, and gain more exposure to the field. 

The Pre-Apprenticeship Program is an extension of PECO’s overall commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Keeping the lights on and keeping the gas flowing is sort of our price of admission, that’s sort of what we do. But our real goal is to make the community better, and you can’t have the community be better if it’s not equally impacting us all,” said Michael Innocenzo.

Having been around for more than 140 years, benefitting the communities in which it serves has been at the forefront of PECO's mission. 

To effectively do so, the company has aimed to build and sustain a culture that allows employees to be their full selves, learn about each other, and embrace differences. 

“We know that part of the commitment to diversity has to be widespread, it’s got to be broad, and it’s got to be deep,” said Innocenzo, noting that it’s in relation to its employees, communities, diverse suppliers, nonprofits and other community partners.

“It’s all based on an understanding that we are better when our community is better.”

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