PENSACOLA, Fla. – Keyshawn Helton is like many high-school students who are unsure of their career future after graduation. The senior football standout at West Florida High School wants to play at a Division I university, but also wants to keep his options open and figure out future employment opportunities.
“I want to be able to know there is something after football and where I need to be headed with my degree program no matter what I major in,” said Helton. “I need to figure out my purpose and my ‘Why’ when looking at any future career.”
Helton joined more than 50 other high-school juniors and seniors Oct. 24, for the Blacks in Energy Awareness Month, or BEAM event that provided an opportunity to explore a potential future in energy.
Gulf Power partnered with the Gulf Coast Chapter of American Association of Blacks in Energy to host the event at the McCrary Storm & Training Center in Pensacola, where students had the opportunity to learn about jobs in the energy industry including engineering, IT, accounting, marketing, environmental, power generation and more.
Eric Pickett, an engineer for Gulf Power, and president of the AABE Gulf Coast chapter for the last three years, said the organization hosts events annually in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
“The BEAM program is important because it gives so many students a chance to learn about different jobs in the energy industry,” Pickett said. “It’s important we expose them to this because in their day-to-day lives they may never know about these opportunities.”
Pickett added that the annual BEAM event is just one of the many ways to help to build a future workforce of energy professionals for the industry. “Students have the chance to learn about careers in energy, participate in tours and interactive activities, and gain personal development skills,” said Pickett.
Students attending the BEAM event were broken into teams and challenged to work together in groups and face-off in a contest to build the highest tower with ordinary household items such as uncooked spaghetti noodles and gum drop candy – and see which tower could stand upright for 30 seconds or longer.
The students were also exposed to the safety culture at Gulf Power and the training required to become a journeyman lineworker, a process that takes seven years.
“The main thing we wanted to impress on the students is that no matter the job, safety is our first priority,” said Calvin Crenshaw, a senior training analyst. “We let them know that we train safely, work safely and make sure those behind us work safely.”
They also heard company employees give professional testimonies and offer advice on everything from transitioning from high school to college, and personal branding, the pitfalls of social media and interview skills.
“These types of events have a big impact on students’ futures,” Picket said. “You’d be surprised how many students we see later on who attended one of these events or received an AABE scholarship who end up working in energy.”
Cheryl Reeves, a counselor from Booker T. Washington High School agreed, saying not many of her students are exposed to the different careers “behind the scenes” other than the typical lineworker they may encounter.
“This helps them see how to get to where they want to be and that there are more careers out there that don’t require an engineering degree,” said Reeves. “I am hopeful that this will be an aha moment for most of them.”
And did Helton find his aha moment?
“This was definitely an eye-opening experience,” said Helton. “I really enjoyed learning about the different careers and opportunities available. I only knew about linemen but this showed I can take a lot of different paths and still have a successful career in the energy industry.”
BEAM events are held throughout the month of October all over the country to highlight the contributions of African-Americans and other minorities to the energy industry, and to inspire today’s youth to continue to excel in the fields of mathematics and the sciences.
The AABE is a national organization of energy professionals dedicated to ensuring the input of minorities in the discussion and development of energy policy regulations, technologies and environmental issues.
AABE has 37 active chapters in six geographic regions in the United States. The Gulf Coast Chapter is one of 11 chapters in the Southeast Region of the organization.