Powering Strong Communities

City of Newberry's APPA-Funded Project Shows Value of Internships for Engaging Young Workers

The City of Newberry, S.C., recently concluded an internship funded by the American Public Power Association’s Demonstration of Energy and Efficiency Developments program. The internship involved a student from a local technical school learning about and working with fiber optics and advanced metering infrastructure.

Graham Sligh, a mechatronics student at Piedmont Technical College, worked under the City of Newberry’s Senior Fiber Optic/AMI Technician, Jimmy Cromer. Cromer provided instruction in single-fiber splicing and ribbon splicing, the use of heat shrinks, and monitoring quality with an Optical Time Domain Reflectometer.

Sligh gained experience performing fiber work in the field and in the utility’s fiber truck, in addition to working briefly in a bucket truck to conduct aerial fiber changeouts.

The City of Newberry has faced significant difficulties in finding talent to meet its workforce needs, so it leveraged the DEED program funding to attract a new generation of employees. Given the need to attract younger employees to bolster an aging workforce, the City of Newberry sought to determine whether internships could “serve as a tool for workforce recruitment.” Sligh writes in the City of Newberry’s final DEED report, “This was my first foray into utilities. I did not know that there were so many fields covered by that one word.”

The utility believes internships can provide a valuable introduction to the utilities field for young people and students like Sligh, serving as a “chance to see what public utilities offer, and if this is a field that holds an interest for them,” per the final DEED report.

When asked about the DEED program’s role in the City of Newberry’s internship program, City of Newberry Utilities Director Tim Baker said, “DEED gave us structure, allowed us to get our name out to local schools and young people.”

Baker also emphasized the importance of the DEED funding in proving to the city council “the value of these programs” while limiting risk to and expense for the utility and the city. “It allowed us to implement a program we would not have otherwise,” he said, and the city government is “now totally on board with something like these internships.”

While the City of Newberry is currently focused on expanding its apprenticeships across electric, fiber, and water, the utility hopes to return to the internship program in the future, potentially in partnership with local schools. Baker recently attended a meeting with a local technical college to inquire whether a program like this could be expanded to offer credit. “The internship is definitely something we want to revisit,” he said.

The City of Newberry Utility Department provides electric service to 5,000 customers, including 4,113 residential customers. It received a grant of $4,000 to fund the internship, with an additional $1,000 awarded for the intern to travel to APPA-approved conferences, from the American Public Power Association’s DEED program.

APPA’s DEED program funds research, pilot projects, and education to improve the operations and services of public power utilities, with particular emphasis placed on the scalability and transferability of projects for other utilities. For more information on APPA’s DEED program, to become a DEED member, or to apply for a DEED grant, visit the DEED program’s webpage.