About a month ago, I received an e-mail from a “long-time listener, first-time caller.” This reader retired after 32 years as a lineman and a first line supervisor at Pepco. He said he has enjoyed reading the magazine since he first picked up an issue on his foreman's desk. Because he figured he could get his own subscription, he applied for his own, and he's been a reader ever since.

After spending three decades in the field, he returned to working for the company as a part-time consultant to write procedures for a new safety manual. He said he likes to consider himself a “virtual lineman.”

His message got me thinking about the retirement of linemen and the future of the utility industry. With the average age of linemen nearing 50, a tidal wave of linemen are going to retire over the next two decades.

When these linemen finally turn in their resignations, many will have a hard time winding down after years in the field. Used to climbing poles, working long hours and being outside all the time, the road to retirement will be rough for many of them.

When I talk to linemen, they often dream of traveling, fishing, hunting, farming and spending time with their families after their years of hard work. Line work is in the blood, however, so it's hard for many linemen to slow down, shift gears and relax. For that reason, many linemen want to stay active in the line trade. Here are five ways in which our country's veteran linemen can make a difference in the utility industry.

  1. Teach the future generation

    The need for more linemen is fueling the demand for more training programs across the country. Many community colleges and vo-tech schools are creating curriculums centered around training linemen. Oftentimes, these schools will turn to retired linemen to serve as teachers in the classroom. This is an excellent way for linemen to share the knowledge that they've learned after working in the field for decades. No one knows the utility industry better than a well-seasoned lineman.

    Teaching is also a perfect way for linemen to connect with aspiring line workers. When they see the light bulbs go off inside their students' heads when they learn a new concept, it will be an experience they'll not soon forget.

  2. Reach out to the community

    Many young boys and girls aren't aware of all the opportunities in the utility industry. To set them on a well-paying and rewarding career path, linemen can visit local high schools to educate the students about what it is like to work as a lineman in the field.

  3. Serve as a mentor

    Many of the retired linemen helped to build our nation's transmission system, and as such, they have extensive background knowledge on how to maintain it. After years in the field, they also have many tricks of the trade and ways to get work done safely and efficiently.

    In the future, I'd like to see utility companies bring back their retired linemen to participate in mentorship programs with some of the younger linemen. I think this would be a great way for the veteran linemen to stay involved and give back, and for the younger linemen to see what it takes to successfully work for decades in the field.

  4. Volunteer in the U.S. or abroad

    Volunteering overseas can be a life-changing experience, and it's a great way for linemen to share their time and talents. Many countries without established electrical transmission and distribution systems are in dire need of skilled workers who can help them to provide power to their towns and villages.

    For example, volunteers from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association's International Foundation are already traveling to developing countries like Sudan to electrify rural areas and work with the locals to manage the system to ensure long-term sustainability. In addition, an association called TechServe (www.techserve.org) is always looking for linemen to serve as volunteers for mission projects.

    Because they are handy, linemen can make a difference right here at home with associations like Habitat for Humanity, which is always looking for volunteers who aren't afraid to climb a roof, pound a nail and dive into a construction project.

  5. Serve as a judge

    Many linemen look forward to competing in the International Lineman's Rodeo every year. Once they retire, however, there are still opportunities to get involved. For example, many of the judges at the rodeo are retired linemen. For more information on what is required to become a judge, visit www.linemansrodeokc.com/judginginfo.html.

In addition to these ways to stay involved, I also invite recently retired linemen to write articles for this section. If you have an article idea or know of a retired lineman who is making a difference in the utility industry, please contact me at afischbach@tdworld.com.

By staying involved in the utility industry, linemen will be able to continue their passion for working in the field, and at the same time, help the future workforce.