When I took the job as electric training director for the Missouri Public Utility Alliance (MPUA) in January of 2001 and began visiting utilities, I heard the same question over and over again: “Where can I get a lineman or an apprentice?” The utilities couldn't keep line workers and they couldn't find them, either.

After many meetings, MPUA established the Apprentice Line Workers Program, a comprehensive four-year training program that provides both entry-level and experienced utility employees with the skills they need to obtain federally recognized journeyman credentials.

Offered by MPUA through the Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission, the Apprentice Line Workers Program includes training in a professional, nationally recognized line worker curriculum; on-site training and testing at the utility; administration of the Missouri Department of Labor Apprentice paperwork; and record keeping of on-the-job training hours. The cost to enroll is $1370 per year, which includes all materials, books, on-site instruction and testing.

High Points

In every utility, there is usually at least one worker who is not as skilled as the other linemen, or who is not as strong or is too big. I had a student who weighed 325 pounds who was required to perform pole-top rescue as part of his job training. The poor guy was worried to death that he would not be able to do it. All of the other students would give him fits about doing it.

Finally, I told him if he could do it in a certain time, he would not have to take a final test on it the next day. That is if he did it correct, of course. Before I could turn around, he was up the pole and had the dummy halfway down. His actions set the tone for those who had been riding him and, believe it or not, more than half did not beat his time. For being 325 pounds, he turned out to be pretty quick, so I nicknamed him “Lightning.”

I think the ultimate high point of the program was the graduation day of our first climbing school. The apprentices climbed the pole and put up the American flag, and we took a picture of all of them in the air. That picture has a lot to do with the growing enrollment of the program.

A perfect example of the success of the program is the city of Columbia. This year, 11 of the apprentices enrolled in the training program are from Columbia, Missouri. More important, because of the program, Columbia has apprentices topping out at the same time that journeymen are retiring, which is exactly why we started this program.

The Next Big Thing

MPUA is constantly trying to stay up-to-date with the needs of our membership. The challenge is that our membership is so diverse and each member's training needs vary widely from city to city. As we develop new programs, we are constantly asking: Does it fit the unique needs of our utilities? Can it be adapted to the processes our members may currently have in place? Is it flexible? How much time and resources will it take to implement? Is it affordable?

Based upon these criteria, we have found a training solution our members may find beneficial from a safety program and technical skills development point of view. In February, MPUA entered into a partnership agreement with OverNite Software Inc. (Houston, Texas) to offer our members a web-based information and training delivery and management system. OverNite Software's ExxTend Learning system specializes in providing interactive multimedia training products and performance support to clients in a variety of industries including many Fortune 500 companies and organizations like the Tennessee Gas Association.

What MPUA finds advantageous about this service, in addition to the vast curriculum, is that it includes everything needed to administer our municipals' information regarding training — student registration and tracking, testing and reporting, and curriculum and course administration — all accessible to users and administrators through a 100% web interface. It is also flexible enough for members to incorporate it into existing safety-training processes without changing the way safety meetings are held. You can even use the system as a training records storehouse to simplify the record-keeping process.

Another exciting feature about this service is that we can create new courses customized for each type of utility and post them to the OverNite server for our membership to have 24/7 access. It is possible that we can even work with state agencies to create curricula for operators to attain required certifications.

After it has been set up, the system will be available via MPUA's website, and members who choose to participate will be able to set up their program to meet their utility's needs. Participants will simply log on to the system and access the training program they wish to use. There will be no upfront costs for a member to use the system; fees will be based on the number of students in each training session at a competitive “per view” cost.

Mike Conyers has been an electrical training director at Missouri Public Utility Alliance since 2001. mconyers@mpua.org