Careers in Energy Week: hands-on tours give students hope

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Dianna Jones is a teacher at Lighthouse Academy in Kentwood, on Michigan’s west side.

It’s a unique school: the academy is largely made up of students who were expelled or on long-term suspensions from other schools. The school’s founder opened the school to give students a second chance at an education.

Next week, during Michigan’s fourth annual Careers in Energy Week, about two dozen students from the academy will travel to DTE Energy’s Wealthy Station, a natural gas service facility in Grand Rapids, to get an up-close look at the many jobs available to skilled workers. And that opportunity is an important one, Jones said.

“These types of opportunities do a lot for students,” Jones said of the field trip. “It is one thing to be in the classroom, but it is a whole different story to get into the field and see it in person. Introducing the students to opportunities they would not have known otherwise, that’s what this is all about.”

It’s all part of an effort by DTE Energy, Consumers Energy and the Lansing Board of Water & Light to provide students a first-hand look at vibrant career paths in Michigan’s energy industry. In fact, Gov. Rick Snyder has proclaimed Oct. 16-20 Careers in Energy week.

From Flint to Potterville to Detroit to Grand Rapids, the energy companies will host nearly 200 students at service and training centers across the state. At each location, students will learn about the many opportunities for stable, high-paying jobs in the industry, talk with employees and get a look at work activities as pole climbing.

“There is incredible demand for skilled trade professionals in Michigan’s energy industry,” said Tracy DiSanto, DTE Energy’s manager of Workforce Planning and Analytics, and co-chair of the Michigan Energy Workforce Development Consortium (MEWDC). “Yet many students aren’t exposed to the high-potential and rewarding career options our industry offers.

“During Careers in Energy Week, one of our aims is to change that, to help students gain a mental map of the many careers available to them in the energy industry,” DiSanto said.

In fact, more than 99,000 Michiganders have energy-related jobs, and the Michigan Workforce Development Agency estimates energy jobs will grow by 9 percent through 2024. At the same time, as many as 50 percent of workers in Michigan’s utility sector will be eligible to retire within the next decade.

Michigan energy companies have hired more than 2,500 employees since January 2016 and there are more than 1,800 new energy company jobs in Michigan each year. At the same time, DTE, Consumers and BWL collectively provide nearly 1,000 internship and co-op jobs for high school and college students every year to help build the talent pipeline.

By highlighting the careers available in the field, the energy companies hope to inspire some Michigan students to pursue education and certifications in skilled positions. It’s part of an ongoing effort among the companies and organizations like MEWDC to create a pipeline of new employees for skilled trade positions in Michigan.

And for those in the classroom, field trips like those to DTE’s Wealthy Station area an invaluable part of student education. Karen Wolthuis, who works at Lighthouse for Jobs for Michigan Graduates — another partner in Careers in Energy Week — said such trips can fuel inspiration for students.

“It gives them hope that they can achieve a career,” she said. “It is a great opportunity.”

Check out Gov. Rick Snyder’s full Careers in Energy Week proclamation.