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EPCE Presents First Annual Learner of the Year Award

The worlds of education and employment continue to intersect in more places and in new ways. Whether proactive or reactive, partnerships among industry organizations, employers, postsecondary education providers, and workforce developers have increasing opportunities to support the economic mobility of adult learners through strategic collaboration on career pathways. 

The Energy Providers Coalition for Education (EPCE) has been at the center of a proactive approach to such collaboration within the utility industry since 2000. EPCE was founded to meet the industry’s critical and ever-evolving employment needs. To do so, it partners with education providers and industry organizations to create industry-validated online education and training that prepares learners for the future of work within the energy industry.

EPCE members include more than 3,500 private, public, and government-owned utilities; energy contractors and suppliers; professional associations; local unions; workforce investment boards; and education and training providers. CAEL, which administers EPCE, recently worked with membership to develop the organization’s Learner of the Year Award.

“There’s no better way to exemplify EPCE’s collective impact than by illustrating the difference it makes in the individual lives of adult learners,” said Angie Lucas, director of EPCE. “While our Learner of the Year award celebrates that impact in one person, we know that success echoes thousands of similar stories that unfold each year thanks to the dedication of our members.” Since EPCE was founded, approximately 50,000 learners have enrolled in its education and training programs. 

The inaugural recipient of EPCE’s Adult Learner of the Year, which recognizes someone who persisted through the many barriers that confront adult learners as they navigate the complex pathways that intersect their workplace and educational aspirations, is Josh Pepple. A veteran of the Illinois Air National Guard, Pepple completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before being honorably discharged in 2008. He then began a career as a groundman with a local electric cooperative. 

Pepple

In 2009, Pepple was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, he persisted through his journeyman training program even as he underwent treatment, including radiation and two stem cell transplants. 

After becoming a journeyman lineman, Pepple recognized the challenges posed by the technical advances occurring in the electrical utility industry. He soon realized that furthering his career would require postsecondary credentials that could complement his hands-on learning. He turned to Excelsior College, an EPCE education partner, to close that gap.

“Excelsior College is extremely veteran friendly, and does a phenomenal job guiding you through the process and setting you up for success,” said Pepple. 

Pepple earned his undergraduate degree, took a year off, and then dove right into Excelsior’s master of business administration degree, graduating in November 2019. “I have had a unique career path in that I started on the technical side before moving into consultant and management roles,” said Pepple. “My education has completely underwritten the successes I’ve had and continues to open the door for new opportunities.” 

Pepple noted that each of the M.B.A. program courses he took have provided extensive value for all of his roles in the workforce. “There was something in every course that I could take and apply to my job – you can’t say that about too many programs,” he said. “There was never a course I just had to complete, each course I took gave me new insight and perspective that could be applied right away.”

Today, Pepple’s position as director of smart grid technology planning with National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative is allowing him to contribute to something near and dear to his heart: cooperatives. I love that I am able to help our members by reconciling the technical side of where we need to go with the accompanying business case and cost justification for how to get there,” said Pepple.

“The EPCE Governance Committee Members selected Josh because of his personal commitment to learning, which is evidenced by his hard work and resolve to reach his goals,” said Lucas. “He is also a shining example of characteristics other adult learners can model to be successful: focus, commitment, tenacity, willingness to ask for help when needed, and positivity.”

Organizations interested in learning more about EPCE should contact Angie Lucas at alucas@cael.org

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