By Alice Dietz
Most Cowlitz County, Washington, students grow up knowing that Cowlitz PUD is their utility provider. But what students may not fully understand is the range of job opportunities available in the utility industry. From entry level, to vocational, to technical, all the way to college graduates and beyond, the utility industry has career opportunities for everyone.
To attract and retain more employees, Cowlitz PUD has adopted a new 4/10 schedule, increased employee perks, and is continuously reevaluating the employee experience at the PUD. But it’s not just about the current employees, it is about the future generation of employees and the future of the utility industry. As the industry is navigating the loss of years of experience due to retirements, Cowlitz PUD is looking toward our youth and helping them get excited about all the job opportunities a utility has to offer. Cowlitz PUD’s training and development specialist, Teedara Wolf, takes pride in her community and working with the local youth.
“One of the most rewarding outcomes of my job here at Cowlitz PUD has been seeing local students get hired after they met with us at one of our community outreach events,” Wolf said.
Over the years, Cowlitz PUD has cultivated relationships with public and private K-12 schools, higher education institutions, local businesses, chambers, and career and technical educators to develop and implement our youth outreach programs. As a result, the utility is seeing stronger connections to the community, new hires specializing in utility-related fields, and a growing interest in what careers a utility has to offer. Recently hired Power Resource Analyst Andres Rueda Perez first heard about Cowlitz PUD more than three years ago.
“What mainly attracted me to Cowlitz PUD and the energy industry was learning about the power industry during my time as an electrical engineering undergrad at Washington State University-Vancouver,” Perez said. “During my sophomore year, we started learning about the power grid, and I instantly knew I wanted to pursue a career in power. Fortunately, WSU-V offered a track in renewable energy and power, which allowed me to focus further into my desired career path. So far, being in the energy industry has been very rewarding and challenging—in a good way. There is still so much to learn within the field, and I hope to finish my career in the energy industry.”
Perez said his interactions with Cowlitz PUD stood out because of the personable conversation he had with two Cowlitz PUD employees who presented at a career fair he attended. Career fairs are one way the utility is able to connect with students on a personal level, and Perez’s story is a great example of the results Cowlitz is looking for when it comes to training and development. However, for Wolf, connecting with local youth doesn’t stop there.
“Because of the diverse opportunities we have to offer, we try to meet our youth wherever works best for them, their schedules, or interests,” she said.
The kinds of students met at a career fair hosted by a college may differ from some of the students who may attend one of Cowlitz PUD’s safety trailer demonstrations hosted by the line crews. It is important for the PUD to reach out to a variety of students whose career interests may be very different, as the utility has a wide range of positions available.
“We’ve offered many tailored versions of our career development opportunities, from paid internships to hosting a homeschool co-op with students ranging in ages from four years old to 18,” Wolf said.
Additional student outreach Cowlitz PUD participates in include an in-house career fair and job shadow. Local students can attend this half-day event, find out about the career opportunities available at the utility, and receive hands-on training for applying for jobs. Students come away with an understanding of what employers are looking for, from resume details to the importance of not having an inappropriate email address. Cowlitz also works closely with the business community, partnering with the local Chamber of Commerce to participate in mock interviews. The utility also develops and adapts the PUD’s student outreach with the assistance of local career and technical education instructors.
“Employees change, students change, education styles change, so we try and be as adaptable and open to learning and working with our community,” Wolf said.
Over the past decade, Cowlitz PUD has and continues to work on the employee experience. The utility industry is changing, and aligning current, experienced employees with students who have shown interest in their line of work can have such an impact on career development. It also helps cultivate that utility experience from an early age and familiarizes students with the many opportunities available within the industry.
From a student at a career fair to a power resource analyst, Perez’s advice to current students is pretty sound: “Students interested in the energy sector should reach out to people who work in the field. That way, they’ll get an idea of what the field is all about along with the many different career paths within the energy sector.”
Alice Dietz is the public relations manager at Cowlitz PUD in Longview, Washington. She can be contacted at (360) 501-9146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.