Good pay. Important work. Physically challenging. These are just a few of the reasons that many young people are attracted to a career as a lineman for a utility.
“It’s a brotherhood,” said Jason Atherton, technical training manager at SMECO. “People require electricity. Linemen are the people who go out there and make sure you have it.”
Utilities like SMECO are aware that there is a great deal of interest in linemen positions, which, in Maryland, earn an average of $35.96 an hour, according to Indeed, an online job site that tracks salary data in certain industries. SMECO, for instance, reports receiving hundreds of applications whenever they announce a new training class for apprentice linemen.
The problem is that though hundreds apply for the training class, too few applicants have the skills necessary to even start to learn the job, according to SMECO officials.
“Some have no idea how to properly climb a ladder or use a shovel,” Atherton said. “All utilities are having a hard time finding qualified applicants.”
Getting candidates ready
In response, the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) has worked with SMECO to create a pre-apprenticeship program to provide practical electrical utility worker training. The 12-week program of courses, which will be offered at CSM’s newly opened Regional Hughesville Campus, focuses on skills needed for candidates for utility training programs but also skills that are desirable in any of the trades.
Completers of the program will earn a continuing education certificate from CSM and receive hiring preferences from SMECO. SMECO reached out to all regional electrical utilities and contractors to alert them to this new resource and encouraged them to support the program.
“Students will spend 12 weeks learning core construction skills and safety practices” at the college, said SMECO President and CEO Joe Slater. “Then they will go across the road to the SMECO’s lineman training yard for basics in electrical utility work, including pole climbing, which is the great leveler.”
The courses required for the certificate will cover topics such as excavation safety, working in confined space, first aid and CPR and core construction skills.
SMECO will also provide two scholarships for the fall to help promising students who have a financial need and are from an underserved population. In addition, scholarships are available through the CSM Foundation.