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A Santee Cooper lineman works on lines after an ice storm

4 Ways to Train and Retain Future Linemen

March 4, 2014
Electric utilities face the same challenge time and time again.

Electric utilities face the same challenge time and time again. To counteract the wave of retirements, companies bring in a new crop of recruits, only to lose the candidates within the first few months of training.

To help companies recruit, train and retain competent and qualified candidates, the Transmission & Distribution Maintenance Management Association (TDMM) is empowering utility field managers to share their best practices. Once a year, utility leaders meet at a at a weeklong conference to swap information on innovative hiring techniques and the successes and failures of recruiting. They also learn about the availability of training and development programs as well as linemen’s colleges that prepare individuals for entry-level positions.

Recruiting and Retaining Linemen

Because line work is physically demanding, only certain individuals are cut out to do the job. To be a lineman, an individual must be able to withstand severe-weather conditions, put in long work hours and be capable of performing hard physical labor. At the TDMM conferences, utility managers share their strategies for finding these candidates, training them and transforming apprentices into future leaders for the electric utility industry. Here are some ways that utilities are successfully recruiting and retaining the next generation of line workers.

1. Put applicants to the test. Rather than investing valuable time and resources into candidates who may not succeed in line work, some utilities are pre-screening applicants and testing their skills. For example, if a utility has 10 openings for new apprentices but 100 applicants, it will bring all of them in for written tests and task- oriented performance tests. The written tests evaluate their reading and comprehension skills, while the performance tests evaluate their physical traits and abilities. Performance tests may include using an extendo hot stick, using channel locks or side cutters, or putting on a set of hooks and using 100% fall arrest to climb 5 ft to 10 ft up a wooden pole. The utility also will also have an operator use a bucket truck to determine if the applicant has a fear of heights.

2. Hire temporary workers. Another way utilities are solving the workforce problem is by working with a temporary labor agency and bringing applicants in to work on a six-month temporary contract position. These individuals work alongside the line crews so they can see first-hand what the actual work environment is like before fully committing to a career as a lineman. For managers and supervisors responsible for the maintenance and reliability of their electrical systems, employees are an integral resource, which requires creativity and innovation. The processes of the past generations are not as successful today.

3. Consider characteristics. Utilities are challenged with finding candidates with the physical strength to do line work as well as the proper attitude and work ethic. Questions of an applicants’ teamwork nature, their ability to use sound judgment or make reasonable decisions are all traits instrumental in the long-term success of an applicant. They must be able to serve customers, and their personalities must be compatible to perform as a safe and productive team member with a crew who they may work with over the next 25 years.

4. Rules and regulations. Lastly as utilities have different and diverse work management guidelines, the conference promotes the network of discussions concerning hiring regulations, working within union contract guidelines, and retention innovations.

Sharing Strategies

While workforce management has been a core topic of discussion at TDMM conferences over the last few years, the association also addresses such issues as safety, emergency response and asset management.

Back in 1976, the association first began allowing utilities to share information about their operation and maintenance methods and processes. Nearly 40 years later, the mission is still the same: to provide a platform for the networking and sharing of information for utility field managers across North America. The conference creates an opportunity for managers and supervisors to meet and network with their peers on current issues.

As utility managers continue to wrangle with issues of recruitment and retention, they will also continue to share strategies and help train the next group of linemen who will keep the lights on for many years to come. 

George Patrick ([email protected]) is the executive director of the Transmission & Distribution Maintenance Management Association and serves as the supervisor of transmission lines for Santee Cooper in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.

Editor’s note: The 2014 TDMM conference will be Sept. 29–Oct. 3, 2014, in Los Angeles, California. It will be hosted by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. For more information, visit www.tdmm.com.

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