TAMPA — U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez visited the TECO high-skills apprenticeship program Thursday and called it a model that he wants to share with employers across the nation.
The Palm River facility trains utility workers to be electrical journeymen who will start out earning about $70,000 a year. Perez said more employers should offer such programs, which he said “provide paths to the middle class.”
Perez chatted with the apprentices and watched as they trained in the classroom and in a training yard. He donned a yellow TECO hard hat and a bright red harness and hopped in a bucket that raised him some 40 feet in the air.
He said he will take with him the blueprint for the TECO apprenticeship program and work to export it to employers everywhere.
He engaged instructors and students in easy conversation, asking and answering questions. At the end of the tour, he posed with the group for a group photo.
“The next time we have a storm in Maryland, I’ll be looking for Tampa Electric crews,” he told the apprentices.
He watched as Jonathan Sanchez, 26, of Winter Haven scaled up and down a power pole in the training yard.
“Boy,” Perez said, when Sanchez returned to earth, “you’re fast.”
Later, Sanchez said the program was “pretty awesome” and will result in a good bump in pay once he’s finished and gets to work as a lineman.
Perez said he was impressed with how the program lifts workers from low paying jobs to jobs that can pull down $30 to $35 an hour.
“That’s real money,” he said.
Robert Tolbert, a substation technical trainer, took time to explain to Perez how a power outage is handled by utility workers from start to finish. He said apprentices who graduate from the program can do a variety of electrical related jobs.
“This is realistic, hands-on training,” said Tolbert, a retired career military serviceman. “It’s an outstanding program.”