March 18, 2019
Workforce development

Eversource tends to its gas (worker) pipeline

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Darrell Kuhne spent 18 years in home construction, but pivoted last year to start a new career in the utility industry.
Matt Pilon

Continuing to expand natural gas service in Connecticut, as well as replace older mains and pipes, has created plenty of work for Eversource.

As a result, Connecticut's largest utility needs to ensure it has a healthy pipeline of up-and-coming workers, especially as retirements accelerate and its competitors and other contractors compete for the same talent.

To sate that need, Eversource recently decided to try an approach it's tested in a few other New England states, but never before in Connecticut.

Eversource and Middlesex Community College last year announced a certificate program to train natural gas field technicians.

The first class of 11 students recently graduated the 13-week program, and Eversource hired nearly every graduate, said Sarah Millot, the utility's manager of training programs and compliance.

A few didn't work out, but eight have lasted, she said. Most will work as paid apprentices for the next two years or so, averaging $24 an hour to start.

If all goes well, the apprentices will become entry-level journeymen, averaging $35 an hour to start, she said. After five to 15 years of experience, journeymen can be promoted to a "lead" or even "chief" position.

That's pretty good pay for a program that takes less time to complete than an associate degree.

However, the program is more likely to accept applicants with previous mechanical skills and physical capabilities.

That meant Darrell Kuhne, who ran a residential construction and renovation business for 18 years, had a leg up.

Kuhne, 44, said the Great Recession's effect on the housing market forced him to reduce headcount at his Middletown-based contracting business to around seven, down from 24 before the bubble burst. He was looking to make a mid-career change when his wife came across a flyer for the Middlesex program.

With a long list of technical skills and experience in managing employees, Kuhne caught Eversource's eye, and once he graduated the program, the company hired him for a management-track position.

He's telling his story to former construction colleagues who might be looking for new options.

"I thought so highly of the program," Kuhne said.

Based on the success of the program's first year, Eversource said it plans to continue it for a second year this fall.

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