BISHOP – Most summer employment programs for young people involve an office setting or a fry machine with minimal pay, but the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) Summer Student Worker Program offers an entirely different take on gaining valuable work experience with skills and machines of a completely different sort.
Better known as the Kid Crews, this program offers local high school students, both male and female, the opportunity to work in outdoor settings and find out what it’s like to work in the Water Operations – Aqueduct Program in the Owens Valley and Mojave providing assistance in running the massive water system that supplies 524 million daily gallons to the 4 million people in Los Angeles.
For more than 26 years, Kid Crews has helped instill students with an understanding of large-scale water infrastructure, a strong work ethic and the sense of pride that comes with earning that first paycheck while working in a cooperative, team setting. Kid Crews also help LADWP project a positive image in the community by helping create relationships and an understanding of what the Department does.
“This program is a great way to help kids that are motivated, but it also helps those that still don’t know what they want to do after high school,” says Lori Gillem who participated in the program many years ago and now works for LADWP as Watershed Resources Supervisor. “It exposes students to our operations and encourages some of them to consider a career at LADWP.”
The Kid Crews Program is active at all four of Construction Yards in the Owens Valley (Bishop, Independence, Keeler, and Mojave). Students must go through their guidance tech, senior advisor or career counselor to apply. Up to five high school students (Graduating Seniors) are selected for each location.
Applications usually open in March or April of every year and applicants are called in for a brief interview. Once accepted, they attend an orientation that covers safety on the job and first aid followed by issuing of their uniform, work coveralls and waders. Program participant make $12 an hour with the option to have a portion of their paycheck placed in a savings account.
Once students are placed in a yard, they are supervised by DWP Maintenance and Construction Helpers (MCH), who also gain supervisory experience working with students. Program participants use lawn mowers, brush cutters, weed whackers, and hand tools. On occasion and under close supervision, they might use pole saws and chain saws. Typical work includes, yard maintenance at Department facilities, clearing weeds and debris from creeks and other waterways, and other maintenance work as necessary.
“This program really opens their eyes to the start of the real world and what it means to get a job, keep a job and also how to get ahead in it,” says Jason Thompson, MCH out of the Bishop yard. “As they work on the crews, they learn how to work together and we also look for those that have leadership qualities.”
Steven Johnson is one of 20 students hired this summer. He attended Bishop High School and was doing yard work for extra money when he learned about the program. “It’s been a good experience so far especially because I like working in the outdoors and it’s fun working in different places every day,” Johnson said. “I hope to work full time for the Department as an MCH or Aqueduct/Reservoir Keeper in the future.”
“Living in remote areas in the Owens Valley and Mojave, summer jobs for young people can be hard to find,” says Marilee Whitlock, the Principal Utility Clerk who manages the program out of Bishop and admits to being very invested in it. “Providing a good work experience at a good wage for them is important to me, so much so that I sometimes refer to them as my kids.”
This year’s program ends September 30. Some participants have already departed for the fields of higher education as they go on to their respective colleges and universities. The skills they learned over the summer on the Kid Crews like discipline, work ethic, punctuality and money management should go a long way in putting them ahead of most of their peers.
Students interested in applying next year must have a 2.0 GPA or better. Interviews are usually scheduled in May. Interviews for Bishop, Independence, and Keeler are conducted in the Bishop Admin Office. Due to the location, Mojave holds its own set of interviews. The top students are selected and placed as close to their residence as possible.
LADWP is the nation’s largest municipally owned utility providing water and power service to 4 million people in Los Angeles with a workforce of more than 9,400 employees.