The Road from Apprentice to Journeyman Part One
April 9 is designated as Lineman Appreciation Day.
They wake before the sun rises, pour steaming cups of coffee and kiss their family goodbye. After swinging by the office to get the day’s orders, linemen climb into their trucks and head out. Our linemen form a solid team with one job: to deliver safe, reliable electricity. But that job can change in a million ways when rough weather rolls in.
Power restoration takes precedence on a lineman’s to-do list. When outages occur, our linemen head out to quickly and safely restore power. No matter if it is the middle of the night or the wee hours of the morning, weekends and holidays, they are there to serve our members, and don’t stop until the job is done. They are the only ones with the knowledge and skills to restore downed lines, snapped poles and blown transformers.
Of course, linemen don’t just strap on their climbing gear and go out to fix lines and restore outages the day they are hired. To be ready to respond, no matter the situation or weather conditions, linemen are highly trained for years. These guys start off as apprentice linemen and typically work into journeyman status in five to seven years. In the old days, they learned on the job from the experienced linemen who’d been doing it for decades. Back then, it could take up to 10 years to reach journeyman status.
“We just worked. When they thought you were good enough, or the Co-op needed a journeyman, is when you were moved up. You might be an apprentice for 10 years just because there wasn’t a need for one until then,” said Kevin Swaringen, line superintendent in Spur.
For the past five years, South Plains Electric Cooperative has been revitalizing its system to create a highly-trained group of linemen. This ensures that our members and the Co-op are in good hands for years to come.
SPEC has partnered with Northwest Lineman College™ in Denton to put new apprentices through a training program before they begin working on SPEC crews. Apprentices spend four months in Denton studying specialized curriculum and learning from certified journeymen. After their initial training, apprentices return to SPEC and begin their rotations through each department within the Co-op. Spending time on construction, maintenance, service, underground and substations/metering crews ensures that when a problem arises, all of our linemen are equipped to handle any situation. In addition to their rotations, apprentices spend two weeks back at NLC each year for additional classroom and field training.
Regardless of how they came to be linemen, every one of the guys out in the field is dedicated to keeping a consistent, reliable and safe source of power flowing to our members.
Billy Carter, a second-year apprentice in Lubbock, wanted to be a lineman since he was 15 years old but decided to go to college after graduating high school. After graduating from the University of Central Oklahoma, he worked for two years before deciding it was time to do something he liked. He enrolled in NLC’s 15-week preapprentice program and was hired directly out of the program to join the team at South Plains Electric Cooperative.
“Out of all the jobs I’ve had growing up until now, this is the one I look forward to,” said Carter. “Working outages during storms; it’s kind of like team building for us.”
Some linemen were unsure about the type of career they wanted to pursue but soon became fond of line work.
Brenner McNeill, an apprentice lineman in Lubbock, heard about working at the Co-op from a friend. McNeill began working part time to see if he liked the work and found out that he did. He was hired as a full-time employee and attended NLC. He looks forward to earning his journeyman status and knows there is nothing else he’d rather be doing.
Matt Herzog, a second-year apprentice lineman in Spur, grew up in Oregon and had knowledge of electric cooperatives, as his father is the board president for Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative in Oregon. “My dad always talked to me about getting hired on to work at a co-op. Line work is a job that isn’t going away and it’s a good career,” said Herzog. After attending lineman school in Idaho, he began working for a contract crew before pursuing a job at SPEC. He plans to make a life-long career here.
It is estimated that more than one-third of specialized technicians are likely to retire in the next 10 years, while 24 percent of those are set to retire in the next five years. While our future leaders may be younger, they will require the same amount of knowledge as their predecessors. Scott Stark, line superintendent at our Childress office, says he believes that the apprentice program is preparing them well for the future.
Cody Bigham, a second-year apprentice in Lubbock, views upcoming retirements as a challenge that linemen are preparing for every day.
“It’s a lot of knowledge that will be leaving us. The way the apprentice program is set up, we actually work hand-in-hand with those linemen who will be leaving,” said Bigham. “It puts the Co-op in a good position because we are learning while they are still here, and we are getting to experience every single department. It is sad to see veteran linemen start to retire, but at the same time, they are setting us up to where we will be in a good position.”
At South Plains Electric Cooperative, we are at your service, to provide the best service. That includes having the best-trained professionals around. These highly skilled men light our homes and businesses every day. They endure harsh weather and long hours, all to make our lives better. April 9 is Lineman Appreciation Day, so be sure to say “thank you” to the power behind your power and thank a lineman.
Don’t miss part two of our lineman appreciation series next month.