Citizens Energy Group and F.A. Wilhelm build a more promising future for Indiana’s workforce
In 2015, Citizens Energy Group launched its Partnership for Excellence in Research and Learning (PERL) initiative – an effort to encourage students that graduate from universities in Indiana to stay and grow their career in Indiana.
Sarah Holsapple, Citizens spokesperson, said that PERL is designed to retain talent. “After graduating from college, Citizens wants students to seek jobs in Indiana rather than going out of state or even out of the country,” said Holsapple. “Like many companies, Citizens will likely experience a high number of retirements over the next decade. So, as a crucial part of our future planning, we are continuously looking for talented individuals who could fill positions on our team.”
The PERL initiative was born as a way to introduce students to the type of employment opportunities available to them at Citizens now and when they graduate. To do this, Citizens is partnering with universities and a few of its industry partners, including F.A. Wilhelm Construction, to foster greater student engagement through collaboration on real-world design or construction projects to allow them exposure to project lifecycles.
University partners include schools such as Purdue, Indiana University, Ball State and Trine Universities. Citizens works with “university ambassadors.” Ambassadors are Citizens staff members who work individually with the faculty at a given school – often their alma maters – to identify areas of student focus that might mesh well with a current or planned construction or engineering project.
Once a project is identified, Citizens’ university ambassador will work with the faculty and staff to develop ways to get the students actively engaged, either through projects or through onsite tours.
Holsapple said Wilhelm is one of a few vendors that Citizens has reached out to for help in reaching students and providing them with real-world project experience. “We want to show students that when they graduate, there are a lot of places where they could work, not just Citizens,” she said. Citizens is hoping to build the program into a statewide initiative.
“Wilhelm is happy to assist,” said Wilhelm president Phil Kenney. PERL is a good fit with his company’s own workforce development initiatives. “We need to continually draw young people into the construction industry both on the management side and in the field. PERL engages students in administration and management and helps us to bring people into the industry from that side.”
Chris Stolte, Wilhelm’s Director of Human Resources, agreed, saying that PERL fits well with some of the ongoing outreach efforts the company already has in place with colleges and universities throughout the state. He said several Wilhelm employees serve as active members of advisory boards at universities and that the company’s participation in PERL provides additional opportunities to connect with students.
Stolte said PERL also supports Wilhelm’s recruiting efforts by providing students real-world opportunities that expand on those they receive through participation in the company’s internship program. “At Wilhelm, we give our interns real world experience, placing them in the actual roles they’ll be filling after college,” he said.
Kenney said Wilhelm is exploring the different ways the company might be able to assist Citizens’ PERL initiative in the future including possibly providing tours, teaching classes, and offering mentoring.
The PERL program is still evolving, and is open to different types of opportunities. One example is a recent collaboration between Citizens and Purdue University that benefitted both the students and Citizens. Holsapple said the senior class of engineering students toured the new Citizens Reservoir project at Geist and then researched ways to efficiently pump water from the future reservoir to the Citizens water treatment facilities. “Some of their research will be considered in the design for the facility,” she said, which has not only offered Citizens a fresh perspective on a difficult engineering problem, but also helped students “open their eyes to the opportunities for good work right here in Indiana.”
Holsapple said she hopes that as PERL becomes better known, developing curriculum to include PERL opportunities will become “second nature” to the professors at participating universities.
With opportunities for professional practice like the one that Citizens Reservoir provided for Purdue students, chances are pretty good the program will catch on.