Utility companies team up with high schools training th …

By Wendy Gittleson
For Huskie Tools

For many high schoolers, just the thought of another four to eight years of education, before even starting their real life, sounds daunting. Who can blame them? College tuition has more than doubled in the last 30 years. The average student graduates with nearly $30,000 in student loan debt while the average entry-level salary for a college grad is just $50,000. It’s no wonder more and more career-minded high school students are looking for a lucrative career path that doesn’t require college. 

Trade schools and utility companies across the country are teaming up to introduce high school students to utility line work and training using lineman tools. While line work isn’t for everyone, even entry level lineworkers take home a salary about the same as recent four-year college graduates. Line work requires, on average, a four-year education, but unlike with most careers, most of that time is spent on the job, while collecting a paycheck. 

Lineman on pole using lineman tools

Lineman using lineman tools image via Wikimedia Commons

Boyne City High School in Michigan recently partnered with Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District and Great Lakes Energy in expanding its career and technical training to include line work. The program is available to any junior or senior. Consumers Energy and DTE Energy are also strategic partners in the program.

Boyne City High School Principal Karen Jarema said, “Our program is a partnership with Great Lakes energy. Lineman instructors are Great Lakes energy employees. They provide experience in a true electrical yard, as well as in a classroom, but most of the days they are out in the yard.”

“The goal is to give students enough experience to jumpstart their continued education opportunities, and will go into a pre-apprentice program to learn at a faster rate than in college,” Jarema added. “Our career tech education program helps students get some on the job training in those fields to be able to to into the workforce, as well as go into a two year school or four year school.” 

Linemen on poles against sky

Image courtesy of Boyne City High School

Duke Energy, which provides energy in six states through the South and Midwest, is also funding programs for high school students interested in utility line work. In South Carolina, Duke Energy, York Technical College and Comporium are offering seniors in the York and Clover school districts an opportunity to learn about line work and how to use lineman tools. The program is a win-win, benefitting both students and utility employers. 

“We are always looking for new ways to engage our students with unique opportunities. Each student has a different path so we are always looking to creative ways to connect with the wide variety of interests that each of them have,” according to Clover’s Director of Career and Technical Education, Carrie Bolin, in a press release from Duke Energy.

Of course, students aren’t the only ones who stand to gain from utility line work training. “It’s going to benefit the industry because of the need for utility line workers. It’s going to benefit the community and it shows how committed we all are to doing what’s best for our students,” John McGill, York Technical College’s associate dean of Educational Partnerships, said in the statement.

Duke Energy and NaviGo are sponsoring a similar program in North Carolina and Ohio.

For students who go on to work in the utility field, the program can provide them the training needed to enter a paid apprenticeship immediately after high school. The programs even benefit students who don’t pursue careers as linemen, by giving college credits.

Line work is far from unskilled labor. The job is physically demanding and can be hazardous. It’s the seventh most dangerous job in the United States. It also requires a lot of travel and the ability to work from heights, in all kinds of weather. While line work doesn’t require a university education, it’s best suited to those who enjoy math and science.

On the flip side, line workers get to see the country, are in a high demand industry, and are often hailed as heroes for their work on the frontlines of some of the country’s worst natural disasters.

 In Pennsylvania, Duquesne Light Company partnered with the Community College of Allegheny County in offering a boot camp to local high school seniors. The goal is to prepare them for the Construction and Skilled Trade (CAST) exam, which is a standardized test for those in the construction fields. 

“The EDT Boot Camp is a great, new way we’re preparing students to pass the CAST exam,” said John Andzelik, Manager, Workforce Development, in a press release. “We’re always looking for skilled talent, and we believe this program can help shape the next generation of employees at DLC,” added Andzelik.

Lineman work and lineman tools aren’t just for guys anymore. Erin Smith, a junior at Boyne City High School, is the first girl in the Boyne City program. 

In her application materials, Erin wrote: “I chose this nontraditional program because I wanted to help my community in a way that is not typical for females. I first became interested in this career path freshman year after a visit to Alpena Community College. While there, I observed a climbing arena and I knew right then that I wanted to become a line worker.”

“On the first day of school, I walked into the classroom with a huge smile on my face. I quickly found out that I was the only female in the class, and I told the teachers, ‘Just treat me like the guys.’ Within a week, we received our gear and headed to the training grounds. I instantly fell in love with the set-up of the yard and the potential it held for my future. Through the school year, I have gained much more information and skills about becoming a line worker and feel more certain than ever that this is the career for me.”

Boyne City High School Erin Smith

Boyne City High School Junior, Erin Smith

Erin was among 91 high school and college students throughout Michigan to receive the Breaking Traditions Awards for bucking the all-male stereotype.

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