SOMERSET, Ky. (FOX 56) — For an hour or so each day, a classroom session at a large building near Somerset looks like any other, with students at their desks and a teacher upfront. But for most of the day, the lessons are up in the air.
This is the Lineman Training Center at Somerset Community College, where steel-toed boots and insulated gloves are part of the uniform. It takes a special person to want to work around high-voltage wires 40 or 50 feet in the air.
Coordinator Dean Rhodes said, “You look at it and say that looks easy. When you get on the pole, it’s a little different story… and at the top, it’s a big different story.”
But it’s just the ticket for students such as Brian Owens of Harlan County. “I’m more of an adventurous-type person,” he said “I like heights. It seemed like the job for me, (being) outside all the time.”
The center does have outdoor training grounds, but its indoor climbing yard is one of the largest in the nation. More than 1,200 line technicians have graduated from this program since 2008. The students are reminded that they’ll be called to work overtime on the worst of days, in sub-zero temperatures, when extreme weather wreaks havoc on power lines. It can be dangerous and certainly grueling.
“One thing I was told when I started, when everyone ducks for cover, we put on our hard hats and go to work,” Rhodes said.
But, despite the work conditions, there’s great demand for line technicians. Students right out of high school can be prepped for a lifetime career in just a couple of months.
That’s what attracted Tyler Whitaker of Lee County to the program. “There’s a bunch of linemen back home and they’re all living a good life and I want that for myself,” he said.
Many of the students already have jobs lined up when they leave this center after just eight weeks, jobs with starting salaries around $30,000 a year. And Rhodes said within five years, that can double or triple. A typical line worker in the U.S. can make more than $100,000.
Owens said his wife didn’t want him to train to be a lineman, thinking it was too dangerous. “But we got to talking about the money and the benefits. Now she’s all for it,” he said. “She knows people who have bought houses and cars after doing this for a couple years.”
Rhodes knows the potential salary is absolutely the program’s biggest draw. But there’s also reward in knowing how much you’re appreciated in an emergency.
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“I ate a lot of pies, cakes, and biscuits given to me when I turned people’s lights back on,” he said.
“That drives me, knowing that I’m helping somebody,” Whitaker said.
The course costs about $4,200, but students say when you compare that to four years of college, it’s a bargain, especially considering how quickly they can get high-paying jobs upon completion.