PSI Celebrates 20 Years

June 25, 2021

“The best part of my job is the positive impact we can have on our students as they prepare for their future careers,” said Rob Petit, supervisor, Power Systems Institute (PSI). “Our goal is to provide them with a strong foundation to become a line worker or a substation electrician, and it’s a responsibility that we take seriously. Managing the PSI has been a great experience, and I’m proud of the quality of employees that the program has produced for the company.”

FirstEnergy is celebrating 20 years of graduates from the PSI program, which was originally developed by the company in 2000. According to Rob, the program’s role in serving as the primary pipeline for new talent to replenish our highly skilled field worker ranks is as important as ever.

“It’s challenging to find external candidates who have the physical and technical skills to be a line worker or substation electrician,” he said. “Having an in-house training program that starts with a rigorous qualification process has allowed the company to identify and train more than 2,000 employees over the last two decades.”

The PSI program combines technical coursework at local community colleges with hands-on skills instruction at company facilities. FirstEnergy has 11 PSI partnerships across its service territory.

The Class of 2021 is comprised of 189 graduates who are beginning their careers with FirstEnergy Utilities (FEU) this summer. One of our new employees – Line Worker Devon Marek – said that joining PSI was the best decision he’s ever made.

“My brother, Trevor Schneck – a lineman at The Illuminating Company’s (CEI) Brooklyn Service Center – encouraged me to enroll,” said Devon. “We both are good with our hands and like to work outside, so he felt it would be a good fit.​​ I used to be a union ironworker, so I understand the challenges of having a physical job and the importance of focusing on safety.”

Devon Marek

Devon completed his coursework at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) and is now stationed at the Miles Service Center. He said the PSI program is tough, but it is well worth it in the end.

Devon also mentioned the impact that COVID-19 had on the program. “When the pandemic hit in March 2020, we switched to remote learning for all of our classes at Tri-C, and we weren’t able to complete our summer internship at a company facility,” he said. “When the program restarted in July, our instructors did a great job of getting us caught up with hands-on skills training so we could still graduate on time.”

As part of the program, a mentor is assigned to each of the new line workers and substation electricians to further acclimate them to FEU’s safety culture, and to advance their professional development. Since this year’s graduates completed their training on a condensed schedule, the mentors are taking extra time to make sure the new hires are prepared to handle their assigned tasks.

“I’m happy with the way FirstEnergy handled COVID-19 for PSI students,” continued Devon. “It was a unique situation, but the company did its best to keep the program on track while keeping us safe.”

According to Wayne Lowe, supervisor, Distribution Skills Training, the pandemic affected the workload for PSI instructors, as well.

“Normally, students spend half their week in the classroom and the other half performing hands-on skills training,” he said. “Due to COVID-19, they participated in remote learning five days a week, and then returned to the PSI training centers when we restarted the program in July. We practiced social distancing and made sure we had all the face masks, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer needed to keep the students and instructors safe.”

Another challenge that resulted from the temporary pause of in-person training was that PSI instructors had to work with current students while simultaneously evaluating candidates for the Class of 2022. “Our instructors did a great job balancing both responsibilities, and we appreciate their willingness to adjust their work schedules over the last year,” Wayne added.

In addition to the graduates entering the workforce now, FEU welcomed 132 PSI students who began their summer internships this month at various work locations. If you know of someone who might be interested in a career as a line worker or substation electrician, visit the PSI website, or call 1-800-829-6801.