Line worker profession is a great opportunity

May 2007

We have just gotten through the graduation season, and there are a new bunch of high school graduates who may or may not have plans for their future. We older folks know very well that the decisions they make and things they do over the next few years will have a profound effect on the rest of their lives.

One option for young adults is to consider a profession in the electric utility industry. Little research is necessary to find out that the average compensation in the utility business is very good regardless of where you live.

Opportunities in the electric industry have always been good, but they may be at their best in the near future. This will be especially true if you have an interest in being a line worker, or an interest in working in one of the trades associated with power plant operation.

I will talk mostly about the line worker’s profession, because that is the business Nodak is in being a distribution cooperative. For starters, the opportunities will occur because Nodak and many other electric utilities have an existing workforce with an unusually high average age and years of service. We are a small utility with only 67 full-time employees at this time. Of those 67 employees, 15 have over 30 years of service and another 16 have over 25 years of service. We expect that roughly 50% of our workforce will retire over the next 10 years. In addition, we occasionally have employees leave the organization for other jobs, or because their spouse has found a better job in another location.

The point here is that Nodak is not alone in this situation. Most electric utilities are facing similar succession planning issues, which is expected to put a strain on availability of trade workers such as journeymen linemen. Likewise, the power plant industry also has an aging workforce, coupled with the fact that many new power plants will be built over the next couple of decades.

So, you might ask, “what does it take to be a journeyman lineman?” In Nodak’s case, we generally hire people for these positions who have completed a lineman’s course at a trade school. There are excellent programs available at Bismarck State College and in Wadena, Minnesota. The lineman program takes less than one year and is very affordable. When we hire someone who has completed this course, they begin their employment as an apprentice. The Apprenticeship Program continues for another three years after being hired. During this period, the apprentice line worker’s salary increases until they are certified as a full journeyman lineman.

The lineman’s profession isn’t for someone who wants to always work 8:00-5:00 and never wants to work in inclement weather. If, however, you want a great profession with a relatively modest investment in education, this is it. If you are, or if you have in your family, a young graduate who is looking for a plan for the future, you may want to find out more about the lineman profession. A good start is to go to the Bismarck State College website on the Internet and click on “academic programs.” Follow the path to the Line Worker Program, and you will find information about the curriculum, as well as a contact person. A second thing you might do is find a journeyman lineman and talk with him. We can steer you to one if necessary, and I guarantee you will find they will be more than willing to talk to you about this great profession.