Since 2011, Los Angeles Local 18 has been partnering with the city's Department of Water and Power on the Utility Pre-Craft Trainee program. All participants need is a driver's license and L.A. County residency. And they're paid while they learn.

For more than a decade, Los Angeles Local 18 has provided area residents with a much-needed path to civil service jobs with the city's Department of Water and Power, and a ticket to the middle class.

Participants, like custodian Ryne Hellmann, do six-month rotations where they're trained in an array of jobs from meter reader to electrical mechanic.
The program has helped hundreds of people get jobs, like Alainna Rawles, who works as a custodial services assistant.

"I didn't want to start a program that didn't end with a job," said former Local 18 Business Manager Brian D'Arcy, the program's founder. "And that's what we did. It's been a great journey."

Since 2011, Local 18 has been partnering with the LADWP on the Utility Pre-Craft Trainee program. Participants take part in six-month rotations where they're trained in an array of jobs, from meter reader to water service worker to electrical mechanic.

They're paid while they learn. All they need to qualify is a driver's license and Los Angeles County residency.

"This program says that Local 18 cares about equity and inclusion for all," said Senior Assistant Business Manager Shawn McCloud, who oversees the program. "It provides another pipeline to the middle class with good, union jobs."

D'Arcy wanted to address two main issues when he started the program: Los Angeles schools not preparing students for careers at the utility and most LADWP workers not being from the city.

"People were given a lot of education in our program that they weren't getting anywhere else," he said. "A lot of job skills aren't taught anymore. Students were graduating high school without any real-world experience."

It's been popular from the start. D'Arcy said there was a line out the door on the first day just to sign the books and start the process. Hundreds of people who took part in the program have been hired by the department, Business Manager Gus Corona said.

"It's been an excellent program," Corona said. "As long as you're willing to try hard, you can get a life-changing job. You're only limited by your ambition."

Alicia Dickerson had to wait two years after she applied before being accepted, a common occurrence due to the program's popularity. But, like most participants, it was worth the wait, she said.

"Before, I was going from job to job to try and provide for my family," said Dickerson, who's currently working as a building repairer. "I can truly testify that it's helped me gain a career with DWP."

John Pickering heard about the program from a former co-worker. He had worked as a solar panel installer but wasn't a union member, which limited the ability to advance his career.

"If you're not union, when you're on a job and it ends, that's it," said Pickering, who now works in electrical repair. "It was devastating as a temporary employee. I had no certificate or anything to take with me."

Like Dickerson, it took Pickering a long time to get into the program, but it was worth it.

"There's so much opportunity once you get in," he said. "The diversity of work is astronomical."

When Manuel Hernandez took part in a rotation in substation maintenance, he knew he'd found the job that he wanted to turn into a career.

"It was something I was really interested in, and I knew it would be a steppingstone for the rest of my life," said Hernandez, who's now a journeyman electrical mechanic.

Since its inception, the program has expanded to offer more job classifications, including clerical work. It also has an expanded staff that offers tutoring and training on how to prepare for job interviews.

It's a testament to the good working relationship between Local 18 and the LADWP, Corona said.

"Local 18's partnership is invaluable to the UPCT program and the department," said John Smith, the city department's director of fleet and aviation services. "Combining their community engagement and knowledge of our workforce makes them the ideal partner."

McCloud noted that Local 18's Electrical Workers Minority Caucus chapter is also a partner, promoting the program during its community outreach, and even bringing some UPCT trainees and alumni to the EWMC's annual conference.

Corona and Smith said the program is helping LADWP address an incoming wave of retirements by providing the department with employees who are committed and more likely to stay in the job for the entirety of their career.

"When it first started, it was like a revolving door. There's a lot less turnover now," Corona said. "The department sees the program as an investment where it gets loyal, trained employees who will likely stick around for the next 30 years."

That loyalty also extends to the union, Corona and D'Arcy said.

"Local 18 gets better union members because they know the union was the one fighting for them," D'Arcy said.

The best part of the program, Corona said, is seeing the trainees succeed and earn their way into the department, and by extension the middle class.

"We get a lot of single moms who never dreamed they could be in the trades. They really surprise themselves," he said. "It's great to see them, and everyone else, get so much pride out of their work."