A new, massive training facility that CenterPoint Energy opened in the 5 Corners Improvement District serves as a skill-sharpening hub that promotes safety to the company’s fresh recruits and seasoned workers.

The 150,000-square-foot Hiram O. Clarke Training Center was unveiled in November at 12045 S. Main St., a stone’s throw from CenterPoint’s existing training facility at 12100 S. Main. It is named after a sales engineer who became a commercial manager for Houston Lighting & Power Co. in 1916, before his extensive tenure with CenterPoint in roles including executive vice president, according to the company.

Apprentice Lineman Robert Sheely demonstrates electric line construction.

The new facility complements the older one as a strategic part of CenterPoint’s workforce development initiative. The older center is being renovated for natural gas operations training after it had served as a hub for electric apprenticeship.

In contrast, the new facility focuses on a comprehensive, industry-leading training program that includes electric and gas operations for new hires, continuing education for tenured employees, and partnerships with local schools participating in the state Career and Technical Education initiative.

At the new center, 25 expert instructors are training about 400 electric apprentices and 320 natural gas new recruits, aiming to enhance technical expertise and beef up operation safety, which Al Payton, CenterPoint’s vice president of Safety and Technical Training, described as the company’s top priority.

“This new training facility is a testament to our dedication to safety, which extends to our customers and the communities we have the privilege to serve,” he said. “By providing our employees with the latest safety training and best practices, we also offer a stronger safety net and enhanced reliability to our customers.”

The new training center includes classrooms with real-world equipment and tools, emergency operations staging sites that mimic actual electric circuits and natural gas line connections, and hands-on simulation areas fitted with poles to practice climbing and making power line repairs.

The facility also can be used for emergency operations during severe weather or natural disasters, according to the company.

Payton said the new facility is an investment “in our community, and in our employees who are crucial to ensuring the reliability and safety of our services.”

With hundreds of workers undergoing instruction at the new center and an anticipated steady influx to its classrooms in years to come, restaurants and business services in the 5 Corners area can expect a potential boost in customer traffic.

As part of its community engagement, CenterPoint’s collaboration with the local Career and Technical Education (CTE) schools aims to create quality, well-paid jobs and introduce students to the energy industry, CenterPoint said.

Recently, the new center welcomed students from Houston-area school districts to tour the facility and participate in hands-on experiences, such as trying on lineman equipment and personal protection equipment. The youths engaged with apprenticeship trainees and heard testimonies from former CTE students. Company officials hope such engagement would spark interest among students to become the next generation of CenterPoint Energy employees.

The company is actively recruiting for its workforce. In December, it launched a new career website to facilitate a more user-friendly job application process. Residents in the 5 Corners area can apply for any openings by clicking the new job site.

Group photo: CenterPoint team members come together at the Hiram O. Clarke Training Center grand opening. From left, Taylor Medlin, Specialist Communications; Al Payton, Vice President Safety and Technical Training; Sean Stewart, Director, Facilities Management; Jason Grier, Manager, Technical Training; James (J.D.) Street, Director, Technical Training; Lynnae Wilson, Senior Vice President, Electric Business; Darin Carroll, Senior Vice President, Natural Gas Business; and Jason Wells, President and Chief Operating Officer; Steven Greenley, Senior Vice President, Utility Operations Support.

— by Zen Zheng