The propane industry has been described as “aging”, particularly with respect to industry engines.
the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC) and the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) have made workforce development a key priority in recent years, said Mike Caldarera, senior vice president of advocacy and technical services at NPGA, noting that the median age of drivers in the The propane industry is around 55 years old – almost 15 years older than the median age of the US workforce is 41.9, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Several years ago, the industry asked us to look and place more emphasis on the area of workforce development and recognize that this is an issue that is being addressed. ‘The whole industry was really facing it,’ Caldarera said.
One viable option identified by the NPGA to help accelerate workforce development was the industry-wide adoption of a registered apprenticeship program. One of the goals of adopting such a program would be to bring more young people into the industry, create a livelihood for them and orient them towards a long-term career in propane.
In fact, a person who has completed an apprenticeship program earns an average of $ 300,000 more in lifetime income than someone who has not acquired skills through such a program, according to Jim Foti, regional director of the US Department of Labor, during an NPGA webinar on the topic of learning.
“It has to do with our human ability to learn and our ability to gain as we progress,” says Foti.
The NPGA, in collaboration with PERC and the Ministry of Labor, launched this apprenticeship program on April 15. Because the NPGA already works closely with government agencies, she was appointed as the administrator of the program. The association worked with the Ministry of Labor for several years to lay the foundation and requirements for the program.
“It would be beneficial to create a program that has a certain rigor or a certain set of third-party standards, which is why we approached the Ministry of Labor to basically register our program with their apprenticeship office,” Caldarera explains. , who is the main NPGA staff member for program oversight.
Course and requirements
In addition to a propane service technician course, the apprenticeship program offers three courses for apprentice utility vehicle drivers: bobtail driving, transport driving, and utility and service truck driving.
Rather than simply recording hours, the NPGA curriculum is based on the concept of competency-based learning, which means that an apprentice must demonstrate mastery of a number of work-related skills before moving on to something else.
Each path requires the completion of a different number of basic skills during the apprenticeship.
For example, a bobtail driver apprenticeship includes 50 basic skills such as loading and unloading bobtails; safely handle hazardous materials; methanol injection and container evacuation, according to the NPGA.
Apprentice utility and service truck drivers need to acquire 44 basic skills. These include the ability to fill and deliver containers; manage accidents and emergencies; and inspect, identify and document vehicles.
Meanwhile, the driver’s training of transport vehicles includes 56 basic skills, including identification of components of loading and unloading systems at terminals and bulk plants; unloading a transport in an unmetered delivery service; and perform monthly testing of transportation and hose assemblies.
A competency-based program offers benefits to both the apprentice and the employer, according to the NPGA. It allows apprentices to work at their own pace, giving them flexibility and the opportunity to learn their basic skills faster than a traditional hour-based program, if needed.
On the employer side, a skills-based apprenticeship program provides retailers with the peace of mind that their apprentices truly master the demands of the job, especially in an industry where safety is paramount.
“This gives confidence and confidence to the employer, especially if the apprentice can perform these tasks consistently and correctly,” Caldarera explains. “It tells the employer that, ‘Okay, we have a good person here and we have invested time in them. He’s someone we know we can send to do a job.
While the employer confirms that the apprentice has mastered the basic skills, Caldarera encourages both the apprentice and the employer to take their time throughout the process to reap the maximum benefits and take the extra steps to shaping a career path for the individual.
“Learnings build careers, so these programs aren’t a sprint,” he says. “These are basically long-term programs, an apprentice commitment and an employer commitment.
Partnership with the NPGA
Propane retailers can find all of the forms needed to register for the apprenticeship program on the association’s website (npga.org).
The NPGA requires employer and apprentice information upon registration to contribute to a dedicated database that tracks everyone participating in the program. Throughout the partnership, the association says it keeps all records and serves as a point of contact with the Ministry of Labor, submitting all necessary reports.
The NPGA does not hire apprentices, but rather acts as a partner with the propane retailer to help them complete the process. However, the association says it will do what it can to match an employer with an apprentice when there are two interested parties in the same field.
Among other requirements, all apprentices must be at least 21 years of age, be eligible to work in the United States, have proof of a high school diploma or GED, and be able to obtain a commercial driver’s license before graduation. end of the apprenticeship program.
Once the employer and the apprentice are both registered, it is the employer’s responsibility to apply the basic skills, using them as a guide for the apprentice’s learning path.
Additionally, employers must set benchmarks at regular intervals for each apprentice to determine progress, and apprentices must earn pay increases as they progress through the program – including at least one pay rise. during the first six months after starting the program, according to the NPGA. The retailer determines the pay scale but must start at least minimum wage, according to the association.
A long-term investment
Although the program requires an investment from the employer, Caldarera reminds propane retailers that participating in apprenticeship programs is of great benefit in the long run. Choosing the learning path often results in greater employee retention, he says. In fact, 94 percent of apprentices keep their jobs after completing their programs, according to the Department of Labor.
“Almost always, the individual returns the favor when he completes the program by staying with the employer, where he sees that there is a potential career path, as opposed to just a job,” Caldarera explains.
From an industry perspective, bringing in younger generations as apprentices can solidify their career path and show them what the industry has to offer. In turn, this can help the industry stay competitive and build a stronger future.
“The need to appeal to young people to bring them into the industry and orient them towards a career is really paramount,” adds Caldarera. “I hope this apprenticeship program can get people started on this path and hopefully provide them with a career path, but [also] increase opportunities for people in the industry.