When Diego Roman was in eighth grade, he noticed a flyer in the hallway advertising youth apprenticeships and internships with We Energies. The signs showed line mechanics preparing to climb up some poles and Roman was intrigued.
“It caught my attention,” he said. “My dad was big on hands-on work, and my grandpa was an electrician.”
At the time, Roman was too young to apply – the apprenticeships and internships were reserved for juniors – but he expressed interest to his principal and bided his time.
Now, Roman, 18, is a senior at Golda Meir High School and in his second year as a line mechanic intern at We Energies.
The program is a collaboration between We Energies and Milwaukee Public Schools. It provides a direct pipeline from school to work for students interested in the trades while also helping to diversify the field.
The partnership between We Energies and MPS began about four years ago, said Tamera Coleman, the internship coordinator at MPS. The program offers students a chance to be a line mechanic intern, a gas technician intern or a design engineer youth apprentice.
The positions are paid, with line mechanic and gas technician interns earing $17 an hour and design apprentices earning $19. They learn real life problem-solving skills and financial management, Coleman said.
It is part of the state’s youth workforce development efforts and participating students must also take a coordinating course, Coleman explained.
“It’s a very industry-driven program,” she said, adding that five years ago, there was no way for employees to connect with students. “We’re not only promoting college, but we’re promoting the trades or the military or entrepreneurship.”
Students can apply for the positions in the September of their junior year. They then attend a demonstration day at We Energies in October. In November and December they go through the interview process.
If they are selected, students will begin training in March and April so by summer, they’re ready to go. That first summer, students work full time. Afterward, they’re evaluated to see if they’ll return the following year.
To help students prepare, MPS organized practice interviews for a month before the real one. In fall 2021, about 60 students showed interest in the intern positions and about 45 garnered for the design apprenticeship, Coleman said, but roughly 10 to 15 students are chosen for each position.
“It’s a very competitive program,” Coleman said. “You have to be on your best full time.”
When he applied his junior year, Nathan Berrios, 17, a senior at Riverside University High School, was one of the lucky ones to be chosen.
Like Roman, he’s been a line mechanic intern since 2021. While Berrios had a job before, he had never had an internship.
“It was nice knowing I was going to have something set up after school,” he said.
During his first summer, Berrios worked on a project trailer, where he helped set poles and hang wires.
At first, he struggled to put the guy wire on the pole – the tension cable that holds the pole straight up. It’s kind of tricky and requires a lot of manual tools, he said. But after watching a few demonstrations and giving it a try, Berrios soon caught on.
“I like it because it’s hands-on, and it’s not a lot of sitting in the classroom taking notes. They tell you and you go do,” he said.
Both Roman and Berrios intend to return this summer. Afterward, they’ll have the opportunity to attend Milwaukee Area Technical College to earn their line mechanic degrees and then reapply to We Energies.
Their advice to other students: Show up and be present.
“Do not take this opportunity for granted,” Berrios said, adding that it’s important to get enough sleep, eat breakfast and dress appropriately for work.
This is a serious job, Roman said, and the interns are there to learn but to also support the crew.
“The biggest thing is showing you want to do this,” Roman said. “This could be the starting point to a career that lasts a lifetime.”