In This Issue:
Since New Jersey felt Hurricane Sandy’s wrath at the end of October, many people have emerged as heroes—neighbors rescuing families from the floodwaters, church groups traveling to hard-hit regions of the state to help with clean-up and care, residents who have stepped up to take in the homeless despite their own losses.
One unlikely hurricane hero? The utility worker. People have quite literally applauded in recent weeks as, following days of waiting, utility trucks from the likes of Public Service Electric & Gas and Jersey Central Power & Light have pulled into town or driven down their streets, destined to wrestle with downed power lines or remove trees leaning on utility poles in hopes of restoring electricity to homes and businesses.
Utilities, simply put, are the services that make our lives comfortable—everything from cable and telephone, to water, gas and, of course, electricity. Jobs in the utilities industry can be divided into three career paths: labor and skilled trade work; management and supervision; and computer science, including network systems and data communications analysts.
While PSE&G, New Jersey’s largest utility, recently estimated the cost of power restoration after Superstorm Sandy to be $300 million—the storm also caused severe damage to its infrastructure—the utility industry in general does have other priorities, namely hiring young workers. According to the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD), a nonprofit consortium of electric, natural gas and nuclear utilities in Washington, D.C., between 2009 and 2015, about 42% of workers from companies that are part of its group are retiring. The average utility worker is 50 years old. In the past few years, collaborative efforts have been set up in 28 states (including New Jersey) among utilities, schools, unions and state workforce development agencies to find ways to develop the industry’s labor force. Ralph Izzo, CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group, PSE&G’s Newark-based parent, is the chairman of CEWD, thus reflecting New Jersey’s commitment to developing the state’s utility workforce.
Intrigued by the idea of working for a utility company? Public Service Enterprise Group, Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) and other companies have partnered with a number of New Jersey colleges to develop degree programs. For example, PSEG’s Energy Utility Technology degree program at Mercer County Community College and other schools provides classroom learning with hands-on training to prepare people for careers in the utility industry. Some of the job categories that the degree targets include:
Similarly, JCP&L partnered with Raritan Valley Community College and Brookdale Community College, among others, in the past few years to establish its Power Systems Institute. The two-year educational program designed by JCP&L’s parent company, FirstEnergy Corp., prepares the next generation of utility line and substation workers. Students in the program can earn an Associate of Applied Science degree with a focus on electric utility technology.
And so are many utility jobs! Take, for instance, Stephen Morgan, the former CEO of Jersey Central Power & Light. Morgan retired from JCP&L in 2009 to start American Clean Energy, a solar power development business in Saddle Brook. After more than 33 years in the traditional energy development business, Morgan went solar because he believes strongly that renewable energy is the way of the future.
Atlantic City Electric in Mays Landing launched its Green Power Connection Team of workers in the past few years to meet the growing customer demand for alternative energy. “In the last three years, the number of requests has progressively increased,” says Vince Maione, Atlantic City Electric’s region president. “So far, 3,400 customers in our service area have gone solar and [signed up for] wind energy. The majority is solar with 91 megawatts connected to the grid. We are installing 500 to 1,000 customers a year, both residential and commercial.”
What does this mean for you? Ever greener opportunities in the utility industry. Public Service Enterprise Group’s 2008 report on “Developing New Jersey’s Green Energy Workforce” states that a green job is defined generally as one that reduces human’s negative impact on the environment. New Jersey has set three energy goals by 2020: Reduce demand for electricity and non-electric heat by 20% of projected levels; generate 20% of electricity from renewable resources; and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to their 1990 levels. “If New Jersey is to meet its goals for combating climate change and transitioning to a green economy, it must begin to develop its green workforce,” concludes the report.
To better understand career sectors within the green industry, go to NJ Greenhouse’s “Green Career Portal” at http://www.njgreenhouse.com/node/56/.
Read an expanded version of this article by visiting http://www.njnextstop.org, clicking on Advice 101 column’s “View All” feature and selecting “N.J Utilities Are Going Green.”
Once upon a time, people trained for a career and remained in the same job with the same company for decades until they retired. Those stories of job security are, for many, much like they sound: fairy tales. Economic uncertainties leading to realities like corporate restructuring often get in the way of employment longevity with one company.
Take, for instance, Greg Kubida’s employment journey. Kubida, a 1994 graduate of Hunterdon Central High School, chose to go straight into the workforce after high school, working in such fields as construction and real estate. He ultimately found his niche in finance, landing a job with AT&T as a financial business analyst. He would have liked to make his long-term career with the company, but in 2007, after four years, Kubida was swept away in the company’s massive layoff of 14,000 employees.
What next? “I didn’t have a degree so every job [I applied for] that was similar to my job at AT&T had bachelor’s and MBAs and I had nothing,” says Kubida. “Those who had degrees were willing to take a 50% pay cut just to get a job. It really put me at the back-end of the selection process.” Kubida fell back on previous expertise he had developed in computer science, taking a job as a network technician for CenturyLink, a telecommunications company. After working full-time from home for three years handling help desk issues for the company, he realized the only way he could advance in salary at the company, without having to move out of state, was to train as a field technician—in other words, to become a telephone man.
In August, Kubida took a job with CenturyLink in Somerset County, training under the watchful eye of more experienced technicians in areas like telephone equipment installation, maintenance and repair. He climbs the occasional telephone pole (or accesses it through a bucket) and digs cable. He admits that his career has taken an unexpected turn, but is satisfied to be learning new skills that will follow him through life—even if he isn’t at work at the utility for too long.
“Finance is my thing,” says Kubida, who will soon graduate from Centenary College in Parsippany with a bachelor’s in business administration and a concentration in finance. “I’m a numbers guy; that’s what I like.” Kubida, who plans to continue on to get his Master’s in Business Administration in 2014, says he will likely not stay with CenturyLink long-term, primarily because the company won’t pay for his education. Still, he says that working for the utility definitely has its advantages. “The salary is good. You get to work outside. For those who don’t want to be in the office environment, it’s a good choice,” he explains. “You’re represented by a union, which is also good. For someone who doesn’t want to take the college route, it’s a good choice. You can get a [two-year] associate’s degree, [but don’t need to go to college for four years]. I’m a big advocate of not going to college right out of high school. I think it’s best to get some working experience, find out what you do or don’t like, and then choose your career after that. I’m taking school a lot more seriously now than if I was 17 or 18 just out of high school.”