We’re hearing a lot these days about employers struggling to find qualified employees. But BGE took on this challenge years ago – in ways that have proven great for both the company and young Baltimore residents.
The first step was partnerships with Baltimore City Public Schools. The second was creation of a summer internship program for students entering their junior or senior years of high school. Interns learn about specific skills, as well as the broad range of careers at a local utility – opportunities too often overlooked in today’s schools.
Like so many other activities, last year’s intern program was conducted exclusively online. And while every intern shows enthusiasm and skill, three from last year’s class stood out in the minds of BGE staff.
This summer, the company invited Tarence Jones, Amauri Brown-Elsezy and Shane Morris to come back for a second BGE internship after they graduated high school this year.
Kitty Glick of BGE’s Workforce Development team said these three clearly demonstrated the work ethic and determination the company looks for in employees. “They regularly asked questions, offered to lead safety and diversity equity and inclusion messages, and showed strong leadership traits.”
BGE hopes to be able to invite others from this summer’s internship program back in 2022 for a hands-on experience, as well.
Tarence Jones is a graduate of Mervo – Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School – where he specialized in carpentry. He impressed his teachers enough to receive a recommendation to participate in BGE’s internship after his junior year. But after the summer’s experience, he upped his game in every way.
At BGE, he said, “They treated me like I was an adult,” which inspired him to live up to those expectations.
He realized that “I wasn’t that mature,” about fully dedicating himself to academics. After the internship, “I was on the honor roll the whole year.”
The BGE experience opened many doors for Jones. “I come from a tough neighborhood,” he said, so the internship “helped me see a whole different style of life. I didn’t realize you could make such a good living doing overhead line work.”
Jones, like Brown-Elsezy, supports BGE crews working on overhead power lines. Early in the morning, they receive instructions about the day’s projects. By the time the crew leaders arrive, they have loaded the trucks with the proper materials.
“I try to learn one new thing every day,” Jones said. “Someone’s always there to answer a question and walk you through things. They are all more than happy to help.”
Amauri Brown-Elsezy attended Bard Early College – a unique model high school whose four-year students leave school with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.
“I thought this year I’d be getting ready for college in Virginia,” he said, and he still plans to pursue both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. But he determined that the opportunity to get real-world experience, learn hands-on skills and gain knowledge of utility operations was too good to pass up.
Unlike many of the interns who studied the trades in high school, Brown-Elsezy had his first encounter with some tools and techniques during his internship. “It was a completely different world to me. But now, give me a tool or tell me where to find equipment,” and he’s on it.
And he understands that line work may be an entrée into other BGE careers. “Everybody I’ve talked to has said an MBA will be helpful if I want to move into finance or marketing.”
Brown-Elsezy feels the people he works with have welcomed him into an extended family. And he likes the direct talk he hears. “They tell you straight up that it’s a challenging job with long hours and that you can’t always depend on having your holidays off. I appreciate them being so honest,” he said.
He also appreciates the direct feedback: what the crew needs; pointers of how to do things more efficiently; reminders of what to avoid. He takes their instructions to heart.
Shane Morris is a motorhead in the best sense of the word. He’s been focused on automotive studies at Western School of Technology & Environmental Science. And in his spare time, you can often find him working on his 2005 Jeep Liberty.
He didn’t mind that during his first internship he never touched a company vehicle: He was happy to learn about the company and hear from people throughout BGE about their work and their expectations.
He knows from the beginning that he wanted to come back for hands-on training, and he kept in touch with Scott Cunningham, Western School of Technology and Environmental Science’s Automotive Instructor, throughout the school year. “He set us up really well. I wanted to thank him.”
Having only worked on light duty cars, he’s engaged in learning about heavy duty utility vehicles. “Even if I don’t get a job at BGE, I can take what I’m learning now and go anywhere with these skills.” That said, he hopes he can stay with the company.
“I never thought I’d be where I am now, in this position, so early,” he said.
Benefits to the company and the community
Through its close ties to local schools and the intern program, BGE can draw from a pool of dedicated, skilled applicants for jobs at the utility. And the programs are also designed to support other area businesses that are looking for a new generation of skilled employees.
The internship program grew out of the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Developing talent in local schools helps BGE find employees who represent its customer base and can bring with them a broad range of insights: the perspectives of youth, of local residents and of people of color.
BGE works hard to help interns overcome barriers – from transportation to skill development. Glick said many Baltimore high school grads have neither drivers’ licenses nor cars. BGE offers interns free drivers training and a stipend for getting to and from work for their high school interns.
The program also prepares interns for and administers the Construction and Skills Trade Test – a requirement for the Utility Trainee position. Glick said, “It’s awesome to see the interns succeed at this. It’s a challenging test.”
Additionally, interns learn a variety of life skills, from resume writing to investing in a 401(k), topics the interns may be learning about for the first time.
Two men who manage the interns, Bobby Mallory and Jermaine Butler, know first-hand how joining BGE at a young age can translate into a life-long career. Mallory said, “I came to BGE right out of high school, and I know a lot of other employees who did the same thing.” To encourage professional development, Mallory said, BGE offers tuition reimbursement for college courses.
Butler, also a Baltimore native, assumed that BGE employments wouldn’t be attainable when he graduated from high school. “I assumed you had to have advanced certificates or specialized training. I had no idea what opportunities were here.” So, he understands the value of BGE’s outreach to schools.
He was 23 when he first applied to BGE, and he has spent the last 16 years moving up through the electric side of the company. Of the interns, he said, “Their success means a lot to me.”
Butler offered a special call-out to the many employees who work with interns every day, either in the automotive shop or in the field. “I can’t thank them enough. It takes a lot of dedication from the full-time employees to make sure the interns are on the right path. It’s a community effort, and I’m glad we’ve seen so much success out of it.”
All three interns hope they can become BGE employees. Morris echoed the others when he said, “I’m very grateful to be in this position.”
And to other young men and women thinking about careers, he said, “Keep working and stay focused. If you have the opportunity to do an internship, do it. It will put your future in a bright light.
“I don’t take this for granted at all.”