As the utility industry faces a pending labor shortage, the next generation of line workers are following in their parents' footsteps. This is good news for the utility industry, which is looking for ways to replace thousands of baby boomers who will retire over the next decade.
Utilities are working hand-in-hand with high schools, community colleges and vo-tech schools to recruit the next wave of linemen. In many cases, however, the future linemen of this country may be the children or grandchildren of today's utility workers.
As these children grow up watching their parents soar high above the ground in a bucket truck, they often get a taste of the line trade. Some of their earliest memories are watching their parents slip on their work boots, gloves and protective apparel, climb in their trucks and drive to the job site.
While they're often not able to travel with their parents on trips for storm-restoration work or middle-of-the-night service calls, they get the opportunity to see what their parents do on a daily basis during the International Linemen's Rodeo. For many families, the trip to Kansas City is an annual tradition, and it's a way for linemen's children to see their parents in action.
For many children of linemen, line work is literally in their blood. For example, Mark Bell Jr., a journeyman lineman for Local 769 in Phoenix, is a fourth-generation lineman. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather have all worked in the trade. In fact, his grandfather came from Louisiana to Arizona to start Local 769.
As he was growing up, he fondly remembers watching his dad and grandfather work as linemen in the field. He often had the opportunity to hang out with the crew, and was impressed with how the workers handled themselves and the work at hand.
“I liked everything about the camaraderie, and I knew all the people that my dad worked with,” Bell said. “The guys took care of me, and they all treated me like I was their son.”
His father, who has worked a lineman for the last 25 years, was proud when Bell decided to pursue a career as a lineman. In fact, when his son topped out as a journeyman, he gave him a silver watch engraved with a personalized message saying, “Fourth-Generation Lineman.”
Bell wore the watch to the 2009 Internationals Lineman's Rodeo, and he said he was proud to come from a family of linemen. When I met him on the trade show floor, I realized just how important line work is to many families across America. I met so many linemen who were children or grandchildren of linemen, and who also had siblings, cousins, aunts or uncles in the trade.
I can't think of any other occupation which continues from one generation to the next. In most families, children often take much different career paths than their parents and siblings. In the line trade, however, linemen's children often look forward to the day when they can enter an apprenticeship and continue on their family's legacy.
For example, Don Leiching, a lineman for Connecticut Light & Power, said one of his four children already has an eye on the utility industry.
“Being outside and doing what I love makes being a lineman as much fun as it could be,” he said. “In fact, my teenage son has seen firsthand the benefits of the job and wants to follow in my footsteps and enter the industry as an apprentice after he graduates from high school.”
When children of linemen do enter the trade, they often already have contacts throughout the industry. They often get to know not only their parents' coworkers and crew leaders, but also their families. In some cases, they even have the opportunity to join an apprenticeship program with their childhood friends.
Because linemen often spend so much time together, both during business hours and after work, they often get to know one another's families. As a tight-knit team, the field crews take care of one another. Over the last few years, I've even heard many linemen refer to their coworkers as their brothers or sisters. For many linemen, their crew members are truly part of their extended family.
As linemen's children and grandchildren grow up and see this kind of support and teamwork, it often draws them into the line trade. They learn that line work is a challenging, yet rewarding, career, and as a result, they decide to continue on their family's tradition. As utilities continue to search for hard-working, passionate and loyal linemen, they may not need to look much further than the children of today's line workers.