CenterPoint Energy’s regulated utilities distribute natural gas to 3.4 million customers in six U.S. states and electricity to more than 2.4 million customers on the Texas Gulf Coast. The company operates more than 56,300 miles of power distribution lines and 74,000 miles of gas distribution mains across Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas.
At CenterPoint, the Distribution, Transmission, and Major Underground business units all have Helper roles assigned to provide ground assistance to apprentices and journeymen/linemen. Historically, Helpers completed five weeks of onboarding before joining a work crew—a costly investment for a six- to twelve-month role. The legacy program was tailored toward a Distribution audience because the Distribution business had a dedicated training facility for Helpers to learn climbing and receive Distribution-centric aspects of training. However, the program did not cover deviations in tools, equipment, or processes across the three business units. As a result, Helpers assigned to Transmission or Cable Splicing crews were reliant on on-the-job training that lacked consistent structure or accountability. This approach significantly devalued the Helper role to the Transmission and Major Underground business units by providing Helpers less productive in tasks they were expected to be able to complete.
CenterPoint partnered with Mosaic to overhaul their Helper Training Program and create a structured and standardized onboarding process for each business unit. Mosaic began the project by identifying explicitly what a Helper needs to know on day one to do their job well. By eliminating the topics that were irrelevant to the beginning of the role, CenterPoint was able to reduce classroom training time from 25 days to 18 days.
The program now consists of two weeks of general new hire training that applies to all three business units and includes Safety, HR, Local Union Membership, and Safe Driving training. Helpers then break off into Distribution-, Transmission-, or Cable Splicing-specific work groups where they learn about the specific tasks, tools, and equipment they will be expected to use through a combination of instructor-led training and hands-on practice conducted both in a classroom and in the field.
Following the formal 18-day training program, the business assigns Helpers to designated work crews and sends them off with specific project checklists broken into three milestones spanning six months. Crew leaders are responsible for evaluating a Helper’s performance at each phase through observations aligned to on-the-job training checklists. By documenting a Helper’s progress at designated points in their development, the business can bring up issues earlier in an employee’s career and provide mitigation with additional classroom training or on the job training (OJT) as needed. Or a well-documented decision can be made to let an employee go before investing further in their development through costly apprenticeship programs.
In 2018, CenterPoint completed their first pilot of the new Helper Training Program and received positive feedback both from executive leadership and crew leaders. After the first milestone evaluation, the following metrics were tracked and reported: