An all Hands on Education at UGI
Christian Strother may not realize it, but UGI has been preparing for him to start his first job since before he was born.
“We have been working on promoting technical education for more than two decades,” said Joseph Swope, Manager, Media Relations and Special Projects at UGI Utilities. “We’ve created partnerships at virtually every education level.”
Strother, the first recipient of the Richard A. Bouder Memorial Scholarship*, graduated from Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in May 2019, as a plumbing major. In the blink of an eye, this new graduate went from student to a productive member of the workforce, beginning his UGI career as a utility worker based in the Lehigh office on June 10.
With the Pennsylvania Utility Commission estimating that 28 percent of the state’s utility workforce will retire by 2024, the need for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) educated students has never been higher. Strother represents a growing number of new workers who have chosen skilled technical careers in STEM fields. Strother originally attended the University of Delaware but left to attend Thaddeus Stevens in his junior year.
“I wanted a more hands-on career,” Strohler explained. “I really like the idea of working for a utility.”
Hands-on is what directly describes the intense education Strother and others like him will receive from UGI as he progresses in his career with the utility company. Job descriptions provided by Trevor Hess of UGI’s Human Resource department state that entry level utility workers in the field receive on-the-job guidance to perform tasks that include: “excavation, flagging, emergency response, basic backhoe/trencher operations, dump truck operations, gas main and service installation/repair.” The extensive training program emphasizes safety and direct supervision. New job recruits advance through new technical skills and responsibilities only “when judged qualified.”
Though Strother may have made what appears to be a serendipitous step directly into the ranks of his scholarship benefactors, Swope is quick to point out that regardless of their eventual job description and company affiliation, everyone benefits when students educated in STEM careers meet the challenges of a changing American job landscape.
“We did not start the scholarship process to necessarily make an employee out of Christian,” said Swope, “But we are very grateful he is here.”
UGI’s educational commitment is the charge that sparks the company’s drive towards the future workforce.
“Every employer that utilizes skilled workers realizes the challenges we are going to face as current employees approach retirement,” said Swope.
Swope, quoted in a January 2019 Times-Tribune article on the retiring utility workforce, says there are enough jobs for “several generations.”
UGI’s commitment to education in the form of literacy and STEM programs is paramount for Swope and the team at UGI. Many of the programs supported through funding and personnel at UGI seek to increase interest in STEM careers for women and minorities, who have been under-represented in technical-based jobs. Women Empowered by Science (WEBS) at Wilkes University and Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) sponsored through The Philanthropic Fund at the Pennsylvania State University are just two examples of UGI’s commitment to expanding educational opportunities. “We want to get students and their parents who might not consider technical careers thinking about that,” said Swope. “Programs start in elementary school and move into middle and high school.”
Biztown, a Junior Achievement program, designed to give students as young as fifth-grade, real world life experience, is another endeavor where UGI helps fund education for the job-seekers of tomorrow. At the JA Mericle Family Center for Enterprise Education, students can become utility workers, engineers, chemists and more through recently added STEM careers.
UGI employees also participate in community outreach and education at various levels to promote a curriculum that engages students and their parents.
Swope stated that UGI is involved with both the Pennsylvania College of Technology and the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in capacities that include scholarship programs, boards, and steering committees, helping guide curriculum for students entering today’s workforce.
“One of the things that is a myth is that these technical careers don’t require post-secondary education,” said Swope. “Most skilled technical careers require training beyond high school, whether it be through a technical degree, apprenticeships, or other skill-based training.”
*The Richard A. Bouder Memorial Scholarship was established by UGI and its employees in memory of Bouder, a UGI employee who lost his life responding to an incident in Lancaster County in July 2017. The Scholarship covers the cost of a full year of tuition at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.