SAN FRANCISCO, CA --Shimia Buie, a mental health worker, was tired of toiling away at low-end, minimum wage jobs and was going through a “rough patch” after losing her home in Alameda to a fire.
“One of the first questions they asked me during the interview (for both Cypress Mandela and PowerPathway™) was, ‘Why do you think you belong in this program?’
I told them, ‘If this training program is serious about changing lives, put me in it and watch a life be changed’ and that’s exactly what it’s done for me,” said the 2016 graduate.
Buie’s path to full-time employment with PG&E has been as curved as Tate’s, having initially failed a test for entry-level work, but later passing it with the help of fellow PowerPathway™ students and staffers, landing a paid internship with the company and then being hired as a utility worker on its electric side.
Today, she works at a facility that provides electricity to parts of San Francisco and Daly City. From 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. she’s digging ditches and running underground cables. It is physical work, but Buie is reaping the rewards.
“I’ve come a long way from that hotel room,” she said.
“I was able to establish credit. I was able to basically live comfortably without wondering where our next meal was coming from and how the bills were going to get paid. My son is now 20 years old; I was able to put money away for him to be in college and invest in my future,” Buie continued.
She plans to reach electrician status and then promote to supervisor. Buie calls PowerPathway™ “one of the best programs in Oakland right now.”
According to PG&E spokesperson Tony Khing, nearly 95 percent Cypress Mandela’s 148 graduates have been hired by PG&E and other utilities and companies such as East Bay Municipal Utility District, AT&T, Comcast, BART and CalTrans.
The PowerPathway Program boasts an overall diversity rate of 88 percent. PG&E Senior Program Manager, Justin Real, says it is having a real impact on improving the job outlook for minorities in Oakland.
“Typically our students go on to make an average salary of about $92,000 a year. These are some of the last middle class jobs, for someone to come in, they don’t need a college degree or education, and are still able to make upwards of $100,000 a year.
Most importantly, they are able to work in their local community. When you think about it in terms, it is much bigger than PG&E, the commerce that is able to spread and, frankly put, in the Oakland program for instance, Oakland gets a huge benefit in having one of their own residents making a salary much above minimum wage and being able to invest back in the community.”
“From PG&E’s side, we have always been a very diverse company, but we are really able to make sure that our students that now become PG&E employees are reflective of their community. They are the best ambassadors that our company can ever have, they know what the work is like in their local communities,” Real said.
PowerPathway™ debuted in 2008 and came to Oakland in 2012. There are also locations in Fresno, Sacramento, San Francisco, and San Jose.