Among the guests at the Calpine Oneta Energy plant near Broken Arrow were a U.S. Navy veteran and a young man ready to graduate from high school and his father. But at a time when Oklahoma high school juniors and seniors are touring college campuses and deciding where to attend next fall, these three were taking their tour in an industry setting and getting a close-up look at the types of jobs that degrees from a technical university can lead to.
The “Power Up Road Show,” sponsored by Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology and a number of Oklahoma power companies, is taking prospective students inside the gates of the state’s massive power generation facilities and showing them the opportunities for stable employment and good salaries. Some power companies are faced with an impending retirement of nearly 50% of their labor force in the next 5-10 years.
For three years now, executives at Calpine have been working with OSUIT to recruit and train technicians to fill those positions. This is the third year that OSUIT’s Enrollment Management division has arranged these “Power Up Road Shows” all around the state, to introduce the public to the places where the electricity comes from to light, heat, cool and power homes and businesses.
“Our mission is to help people become gainfully employed in a high paying and high demand occupation,” says Vice President of Enrollment Management, Ina Agnew. “Our programs of study are geared to the needs of employers, and this is why our college graduates have a placement rate of better than 90%. This is certainly the case with power plant operators and technicians. There are endless employment opportunities, and 100% of our power plant graduates have been gainfully employed in the utility industry. Many power plant technicians are getting ready to exit the work force after careers of 25 years or more, so this is going to be a wide open field.”
The two-year Power Plant Technology program at OSUIT readies technicians to work in power plants to monitor and control boilers, turbines and other power generation equipment facilities. These technicians use computers to direct and regulate generated electrical power that is consumed by businesses and communities.
Jenks High School senior Dillon Addison was on the tour with his father. “I’m good at math and when I got an invitation to tour OSUIT, I found out that the Power Plant program was a good match for someone who likes math.”
Chad Jester, chairman of the advisory board at Calpine, says internships are always a major topic of discussion at the advisory board meetings. “The industry advisory board meets twice a year, and we discuss the quality and readiness of interns coming out of the OSUIT program. We want to know if there is something we need to give them ahead of time, so they are better prepared and more productive while they are here. Yes, it is a paid internship, but it is not just a learning experience. We expect to get some work out of them while they are here. I need them to be at a certain level so the internship is especially beneficial. I want to have them out here working productively in the plant.”
Being ready to go to work in a technical environment is nothing new to Navy veteran Mark Phillips. He joined the Navy right out of high school and spent 22 years as a radioman and communications expert working on teletype machines. He’s found OSUIT is not just “military-friendly,” it is “military-committed” with a selection of programs that will prepare him for a well-paying job, while giving him college credit for the technical expertise he acquired in the service.
Phillips qualified for Veterans Administration vocational rehabilitation, so the VA is paying for his education in a degree that will position him for a higher-level job in the energy field. “I’m going for a bachelor of technology degree in instrumentation because it related back to the teletypes. They were the foundation of modern data communications.”
Agnew says OSUIT is a good fit for service members like Phillips. “They can come in and we will evaluate their military occupational specialization, rating, or air force specialty code and help them identify a program where we can give them credit for their military experience and training.”
Dillon Addison doesn’t yet have an extensive work history, but his father, Mike Addison, thinks there is no need to wait to get started. “I think this is a good opportunity for a young man to come out of high school and go to a college where he can be almost guaranteed a job in an industry that pays well, and has good long tenure to it.”
Mike Addison and his son have toured both a coal-fired plant and the natural gas plant here at Oneta. The senior Addison says he’s been impressed by the efficiency of the natural gas plant. “It just seems a lot smaller and more efficient here,” says Mike. “They can run the whole operation with fewer people.”
So, the “Power Up Road Show” has helped Mike learn more about the industry that Dillon may be entering, and he’s enthused. “I believe it’s a great decision. I wish I would have done something like this. Dillon likes working with his hands and I think he will do great.”
Members of the OSUIT Power Plant Advisory Board include: Brandie Barnett, AES/Shady Point; Chad Jester, Calpine(Chairman); Gilbert Hall, OG & E; Ken McElhaney, Western Farmers; Lee Morris, AES/Shady Point; Mark Barton, AEP/PSO; Rick Shackelford, Green Country; Robert Pope, Tenaska; Sal Piazza, AEP.