"Their future is unlimited. Whatever aspect of the job they want to learn they can. Once the openings come up, they can apply for those jobs and learn them," explained Gus Corona, the business manager for IBEW Local 18.
Mayra Canales was an in-home caregiver in 2013 when she joined UPCT. Now she's been with LADWP for over 10 years and currently is a plant equipment operator.
Most trainees are like Canales, midlife career-changers who want more than a job. They want stability, a chance to move up and good benefits.
"I'm happy where I'm at, and I just look forward to all the good things that are coming my way. All the opportunities that are going to be opening just based on the knowledge that I gained as a UPCT," she says.
Once chosen for the program, trainees are paid -- with benefits -- and get hands-on help to learn the various positions within LADWP.
Launched in 2011, the program's idea is to offer an alternative pathway to civil service careers at LADWP, while removing structural barriers to full-time employment. And it is working. Almost 85% of those entering the program have been hired full time or are still in the program.
"Every city should be able to have a program like this. You have to work together. You have to work collaboratively to make it happen, but this is a game changer," said Shawn McCloud, the IBEW Local 18 senior assistant business manager who oversees the program.
The only requirements are residency in L.A. County, a driver's license and registering every quarter until you are selected. It took Canales almost three years to gain entry, and with 2,000 people on the waitlist now, patience is also a prerequisite.
"We're gonna need a whole lot more employees, so we're working with IBEW. It's our intention to scale the program so there are more opportunities, and we can do something about that wait list," said Cynthia McClain-Hill, the president of the LADWP Board of Water & Power Commissioners.
"It is a long wait, but you won't regret it," Canales said.
The financial investment in the program is significant, but LADWP sees this as something to be replicated elsewhere as a workforce development strategy that can change an entire community.
"It's important to us because it's a means by which we're able to reach into communities - to our local Los Angeles community - and to give people an opportunity for jobs that will move them into the middle class, people who otherwise might not have that shot," McClain-Hill pointed out.