Fresno veterans program goes nationwide

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 11, 2011 

WASHINGTON — The nation's electric utilities are looking for a few good men. Men, that is, like California native Jason Tucker.

Once an Army artillery observer, Tucker now is getting his energy industry basic training at Fresno City College. He's part of a military-to-civilian transition program that's now going nationwide, as utilities try to tap into veterans' potential.

"They have a lot of drive and a lot of attention to detail," Tucker said Monday of his fellow veterans, "and that's important when you're working with high-voltage electricity."

The 31-year-old Tucker joined PG&E officials, former Fresno Unified School District trustee Patricia Barr and others Monday as five investor-owned utility companies formally unveiled in Washington the training program called Troops to Energy.

In a crowded National Press Club ballroom, Tucker, Barr and the others dined while the likes of Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, praised the two-year pilot program now getting under way. A single father of one, Tucker left the Army in 2002. He later served as a police officer and trained as a firefighter; now, he lives in Clovis while he completes the utility training.

"It gets you certified and back out there in the job market," Tucker said, "and there are not a lot of programs for veterans that can do that."

Troops to Energy is a new, nationwide initiative that in part unifies existing veterans-oriented vocational training, including the program that Pacific Gas & Electric has dubbed PowerPathway.

The five utilities participating in Troops to Energy are committed to spending $50,000 each on veterans' training for the next two years. The PG&E program currently provides selected veterans a free, 10-week training session at several community colleges.

"We are rewarding people who sacrificed for their country," said Shawn Cooper, director of corporate relations for PG&E, "and the benefit for us is we're getting people who understand discipline. It's a win-win."

Utility officials also cast the program as a way to attack high unemployment among veterans, although federal unemployment records suggest veterans aren't doing as badly as some think. Eleven and a half percent of all veterans who served since 2001 were unemployed last year, compared to 9 percent of non-veterans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The unemployment rate among younger veterans aged 18-24 is higher, about 22 percent, though it's also nearly 20 percent for younger non-veterans.

The veteran trainees, Barr said, were not necessarily focused students while in high school. But Barr, who serves as case manager for the Fresno City College students, said the veterans can turn their martial backgrounds into workplace virtues.

"They've got great focus, and they're safety-conscious all the time," Barr said. "I'm looking for that kind of person."

The trainees do well. Barr said that of about 80 veterans who have gone through the Fresno City College training, 98 percent have passed the PG&E test.

By contrast, the passing rate ranges between 30 and 40 percent for all applicants.

ON THE WEB

Troops to Energy web site

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McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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