Duke employees & AABE partner for Youth Energy Academy

BY STEVE TRAIMAN, Contributing Columnist

As part of its expansive civic role in the St. Petersburg and Pinellas African-American community, “Duke Energy is very excited about our employee resource groups,” Alex Glenn, president of the company’s Florida utility operations, earlier told The Weekly Challenger (April 3-9 issue). “Advocates for African-Americans—A³ Florida—was started by Duke employees to focus on attracting, engaging and retaining African American talent.

“One success is its partnership with AABE Florida (American Association of Blacks in Energy), the concept designer, and Siemens of Central Florida with whom we’re planning our third annual Youth Energy Academy (YEA), with one class in Pinellas July 31-Aug 1, and a second in Winter Garden Aug.  7 – 8. The first YEA in September 2012, headed by Michael Lewis, senior vice president, Florida Delivery Operations, was a big success.”

This year’s first YEA session is at the Bartow Plant in St. Petersburg, with students suggested by strategic partners Job Corps of Pinellas County and Professional Opportunities Program for Students, Inc. Second session is a week later at the Winter Garden Training Center. Strategic partner support from other local youth outreach organizations includes the YMCA of Central Florida, Boys & Girls Club of Volusia County, Frontline Outreach, Collegiate Pathways, and Forest High School Ocala EMIT Program students.

How YEA Came Together

In an exclusive interview with The Weekly Challenger, Lewis said, “We have an outstanding group of leaders searching for ways to expand diversity while bringing value to Duke and reaching out to other employees and the community. Some of our A³ Florida group also were active in AABE, and thought that teaming with AABE and other area youth groups would be a good opportunity. There was strong support for pulling together a program taking students from school to career, giving more exposure for kids who might not have that opportunity.

“Driven by our goal to have our people become better leaders in the community, YEA was an opportunity for us to give back and put a face and personality to our company name. Starting at the end of 2011 when the concept was approved at Duke’s high management level, everything came together over a period of several months, which those partners noted earlier. It was a sense of urgency to pursue this elevated process quickly, which resulted in the first event in 2012.

“Looking ahead, it’s all about expansion and developing more partners. Our footprint covers 35 Florida counties and we want to give more students in our service areas a chance to participate with our partners. I see us looking into the Ocala area as our next expansion stage.”

YEA Focus: Energy Industry

Speaking at that first YEA, Lewis asked rhetorically, “Did you know that nationally, fewer than 10 percent of college-educated minorities choose to enter science and engineering career fields?  It’s a trend that’s baffled recruiters, but Duke Energy is working on some innovative ideas to help change that.”

As to why more young African-American students don’t choose the math and science fields, Lewis cited a number of reasons:

  • The energy and utility business isn’t a traditional line of work in the families many of these students come from.  So they don’t see it growing up and, therefore, don’t consider it an option for themselves.  
  • Access can be a problem. While students are introduced to basic sciences in elementary school, as students move on through middle and high school, they don’t always get the unique experiences in the sciences that peak their interest.  School budgets are always tight and if students live in a low-income area, the likelihood of them participating in field trips and advanced science classes is low.
  • There are not enough mentors helping students both inside and outside of the classroom, and teaching students how to be successful in this industry.

Lewis continued, “That is why Duke Energy’s Advocates for African Americans—A³, collaborated with the Florida Chapter of the AABE to host this first ever Youth Energy Academy,” added Malcolm Barnes, then president of the AABE Florida Chapter and a field operations manager for Duke Energy Florida. “Not only is this an opportunity for us to give back to our communities, but it is also an opportunity to teach students the value of a career path within the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) model.”

“The Duke diversity and inclusion goals recognize that a diverse, multicultural workforce makes good business sense and is necessary to support the innovation and high performance required in our aggressive and changing industry,” Lewis said.  “In order for the new Duke Energy to continue to be a leader in the energy domain, it is imperative we remain competitive in attracting and retaining a diverse workforce.

“When the students were in the classroom and when they engaged with our people, it was great to see their enthusiasm as they were totally oblivious to what the opportunities are in our industry.

“When I spoke to students in 2012, I noted the opportunity for them to join a topflight team. Our organizational pride is very attractive, and they can belong to Duke as a family. That YEA attendee today can be a teammate of mine, and in my 28 years I have seen many of us grow together as a family.

“I’m impressed by and appreciative of the students’ attentiveness and interest in our YEA programs. This effort is exactly what we need to do to engage young people and develop their interest in the energy industry. AABE – FL and A³, are to be commended for taking the initiative to host such an important event.”

Duke Energy 2014 YEA Program

A3 Florida, started by Duke employees to focus on attracting, engaging and retaining African American talent, has added a new location and is all set for its Third Annual Youth Energy Academy (YEA), July 31 – Aug. 1 in St. Petersburg and Aug. 7 – 8 in Winter Garden. Each two-day event is aimed at providing energy industry career awareness to high-school students in underserved communities.  Through an abundance of support from A3 volunteers, Duke Energy leaders, and strategic partners, the event delivers insights for STEM (engineering and corporate) and Craft & Technical (line and generation) tracks.

Day 1 focuses on corporate culture, soft skills exercises and live demonstrations. Day 2 centers on the specific tracks, with the approximately 50 students rotating through hands-on experiments and exercises, supported by subject matter experts.

The Academy continues to grow in popularity and is unique in the level of support from key stakeholders. Duke Florida’s District Managers provide valuable sponsorship funds. Siemens Energy’s employee resources group, African-American Network, will again provide experiment kits, volunteers, lunch and a venue for the students to tour its state-of-the-art wind turbine lab.  American Association of Blacks in Energy-FL (AABE-FL) the concept designer is a critical component as the organization facilitates the follow-up and tracking of interested students and provides college scholarship opportunities.

Duke Energy has not begun outreach through the high schools, but again through support organizations.  Duke leverages these organizations because of the career and professional development missions and because they have their hands on students throughout the summer when YEA is conducted. Most students in those programs have some commitment to personal and career development.

Several AABE scholars, one of whom is now an employee, Randell Rainey, will return to provide insight on the path to success at Duke Energy. Joseph Shirley attended the 2012 event and because of the exposure and follow-up, will be participating as a newly hired lineperson.

Summing up, Duke’s Michael Lewis, senior vice president of Florida Delivery Operations, said, “We are looking forward to the continued growth of this career awareness program and expansion of the ‘mobile footprint’ across Duke Energy’s territory.”

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