California Forward is committed to advancing policy intersections that create a more inclusive and sustainable California where all people can prosper. The Voices of Shared Prosperity series amplifies the stories of Californians who are committing their time and talent to solutions that embrace equity, environmental sustainability, and economic opportunity.
When Monica Nuñez was assigned to create a program to diversify Southern California Edison’s applicant pool, she knew it was the right project for her. From a first-generation college graduate (UCLA, NYU and Yale) to Senior Manager of Community Engagement at Southern California Edison (SCE), Nuñez realized she could help change lives and the economic trajectory of entire families.
“Edison International has a pretty longstanding commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Nuñez. “We want to make sure that is something that everybody can benefit from, so we know that diversity, inclusion, representation across our company is very important, not only from the community perspective, but from the employee perspective.”
She created the Edison International Lineworker Scholarship Program, which aims to build a diverse workforce pipeline for electrical lineworkers. SCE has committed $1 million to pilot the four-year program which began in 2021 with an initial focus on attracting Black participants for the first two years then expanding to other underrepresented populations including women and Asians.
Each year, a cohort of 12 students are accepted into the program, which takes 10-12 months to complete. They must be enrolled in the Los Angeles Trade Technical College’s Powerline Mechanic Certificate Program and pass SCE’s employee background check. Upon acceptance, the students will receive a scholarship up to $25,000 for tuition and costs related to the certificate program as well as for support services.
“I’m first gen. I understand that experience,” said Nuñez who brought her life experiences to the program. “I felt that, if we could pay for their Class A license, which is something that is required for the entry-level job here, we could provide funding up to $25,000 for rent, for food, for daycare — anything that these folks were going to need to be successful.”
“We had folks who had established jobs, folks who worked for LAUSD or were gardeners and security guards,” Nuñez explained of the first cohort selected in 2021. “For older candidates, they weren’t 21-year-olds (minimum age), but these were folks in their late 20s, early 30s who wanted a career rather than a job.”
“These are union jobs, so the floor is a groundman,” said Nuñez. “They can become journeymen; they can become linemen and they start them off at $33.94 an hour.” She added that the union salary was often double what some students were making in their prior jobs.
Providing a pathway to a CTE certificate and a union job will help improve the economic landscape of the Los Angeles region. According to the California Dream Index, less than 40% of the population in the region hold college degrees or CTE certificates and nearly 60% of households are paying more than 30% of their income on rent.
Scholarship recipients are not required to work for SCE upon completion. “This is about the community good. This is about changing their lives,” said Nuñez. “One of the things that was great about this program is that, as much as we would like them to come to Edison, they don’t have to come and work for us. There is no stipulation that makes them work for us.”
Nuñez was able to draw on her life experiences when she was creating the scholarship program. Her parents started off as farmworkers in Texas before moving to Los Angeles where her father started a carpet business.
“My dad knew the marginalized community,” she recalled. “He used carpeting leftover from big jobs and helped small folks.” She said he worked with families at the nearby housing project to install high-quality leftover carpet. “They would all have the same color carpet, but they would all have nice, new carpet for their children.”
Her parents’ work ethic combined with compassion informs Nuñez’s work. “My dad didn’t have much. He had an eighth grade education, but he knew that there was a need, so I think that’s where I feel like I’m 100 times more blessed that I feel that I’ve got to pay it forward.”