PHOENIX – It hasn’t been an easy path, but in 15 months, 37-year old Brian Kerr went from being a heavy-equipment operator at a coal-fired power plant to an informational technology associate business analyst as part of Salt River Project’s Apprenti program, which sought to redeploy and retain employees from the now-defunct Navajo Generating Station located near Page, Arizona.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to shift my career in such a dramatic way and maintain a position with SRP,” said Brian Kerr, a recent Apprenti graduate and current IT analyst. “I have been with the company for more than 13 years and don’t see myself going anywhere anytime soon. I believe the Apprenti program was a huge success because SRP successfully transitioned me from a crane to a conference room.”
A total of nine former NGS employees were retrained to be IT business analysts at SRP through the creation of one of the state’s first tech apprenticeships. To fill needed positions, SRP opted to train from within. SRP is a community based, not-for-profit utility – which also happens to be the third-largest public power company in the country. At its size and scope, the utility has unique and diverse staffing needs. As SRP faced the inimitable challenge of NGS ceasing to operate by the end of 2019, it partnered with the community to proactively establish an innovative work-force solution to develop, train and retain NGS’s 433 employees, all of whom were offered positions to stay with the company.
“Through collaborative teamwork, we trained and provided opportunities to employees who were facing an uncertain future,” said Laura Cooney, who supervised the Apprenti program for SRP. “With their tenacity and commitment to the program, they made it happen and are now on their way to starting a new career. The investment is already bearing fruit when you look at the projects they are working on. They are adding value to the business and will continue to do so for years to come.”
All of the Apprenti students completed the training this month after three months of intense classroom instruction and a year of on-the-job training. Being selected into the program required a rigorous process that involved aptitude testing, critical thinking skills and rounds of interviews.
“I am really proud of SRP’s innovation in workforce solutions. We are the first to pilot the Apprenti program in Arizona and one of the first to sign on with the Precisionists, an organization which creates jobs for individuals with disabilities,” said Tina Drews, SRP director of Talent Management. “We are rethinking the way we develop and train employees. SRP has exceptional apprenticeships for 13 crafts and trades, and now we are pioneering into professional apprenticeships. I hope we can be a model for other organizations.”
For Kerr, the opportunity unleashed an education frenzy. While completing the Apprenti program, he also earned an entry certificate in Business Analysis, maintained his status as an emergency medical technician and enrolled in college to earn a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration by 2021.
“I have taken the first steps in my new profession and I never want to stop learning,” said Kerr. “I could not have completed the program without the support of my manager, my supervisor, my mentor and my peers in the program. The time I spent learning and training on the job with this support system was crucial to my success.”
Apprenti, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit operated by the Washington Technology Industry Association, was introduced to SRP through the Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation in early 2018. SRP partnered with Apprenti to redeploy and reskill NGS employees for mid-level IT business analyst positions within SRP.
“To me, it shows how successful a program can be when everyone comes together and does their part,” said Cooney. “As a leader of the program I find great joy in reading the daily and weekly status reports from my team. It sounds silly, but I’m constantly reminded at how much they can accomplish. There is great pride in what they’ve accomplished.”
Apprenti is a registered apprenticeship program for careers in technology. The Apprenti model is designed to provide a proven, reliable pipeline for underrepresented groups such as minorities, women and veterans to gain training, certification and placement within the talent-hungry tech industry. The innovative retraining program received funding from the Coconino County Career Center and was taught by instructors from Coconino Community College and Northern Arizona University.
"I’ve never worked for a company that cares so much about its employees," added Kerr. "I’ve known companies that would just lay off their workforce. As an employee, I'm grateful to SRP for its continued stability."