Fifteen new apprentice line mechanics joined the PECO field forces after graduation from the utility's aerial line training school. The spring class is one of two such schools this year and 250 new hires PECO expects for this year overall as part of its efforts to deal with increasing retirements and attrition. The staffing increase supplements nearly 250 new employees last year as well.

The labor situation at PECO is part of a national trend with utilities and other industries that are dealing with increased demand for skilled craft personnel and shifting workforce demographics. PECO's craft workforce is generally older than the national average with higher levels of attrition and retirements anticipated over the next several years. As a result, PECO is evaluating its staffing levels, increasing its recruiting efforts for identified key positions, sponsoring more training schools, and hiring throughout the year.

With 500 incoming employees over two years, about 20 percent of PECO's workforce will be considered new. The company is placing a greater emphasis on diversity in its recruiting and hiring and ongoing employee programs as well in an effort to better reflect the increasing diversity of the Greater Philadelphia region it serves.

Mary Krick, PECO human resources director, said the company developed a five-year "strategic workforce development" plan. "U.S. labor statistics show that the electric utility industry is losing about 27,000 employees a year nationally due to retirements," Krick said. "We are anticipating a fair number of retirements in the coming years, so we've increased our rate of hiring and training." Statistics show that about 65 percent of PECO employees are of "baby boomer" age, compared to about 41 percent in the U.S. workforce as a whole.

PECO's new aerial line apprentices will take part in on-the-job training and mentoring programs over a three-year progression to become first class aerial line mechanics. They were part of a 23-member class and more than 500 candidates who applied to PECO for these positions. PECO said it would run another aerial line school in the fall, as well as training schools this year for underground mechanics, substation mechanics, gas mechanics, maintenance technicians, dispatchers and energy technicians. PECO also is hiring for its customer service call center, designers and engineers and expanding its internship programs.

Krick said PECO is seeking new recruits from colleges, area trade schools, the military, and local union halls, plus numerous community partnerships like Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition, Philadelphia Academies, Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement, and the National Society of Black Engineers. The company also has attracted new employees from out of the area and other utilities with its highly competitive compensation and benefits package. Additionally, an employee referral system has been started that rewards employees for recruiting successful candidates for key positions.

"Our hiring plans are robust, our training pipelines have been revitalized, and specialty skills schools have been regularly scheduled out for the next six years," she said. Krick said that PECO has instituted numerous programs to ensure that the vast knowledge held by long-term PECO employees is retained and transferred to the next generation.

PECO is also encouraging current craft employees to consider supervisory roles, a move that will make sure the institutional knowledge they hold is transferred to incoming field crews. The company is expanding its diversity, business acumen, career development, and mentoring programs and sponsoring employee network groups to engage employees and help new employees become oriented with the company, its culture, and strategic issues.