Updated: Dec 26, 2021
Founded in partnership with FirstEnergy in 2000, Blue Ridge Community and Technical College’s Power Systems Institute (PSI) is a unique, two-year program that combines classroom and experiential learning. Students enrolled in the Power Systems at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College have the opportunity to earn an Associate of Applied Science in Electric Utility Technology. The unique program is offered in partnership with FirstEnergy and Blue Ridge Community and Technical College, is a pre-employment program. Our team took some time to sit down with Duane Roberson the Director of Electric Utility Training and Safety at Blue Ridge Technical College to learn more in-depth what makes this such a strong program in West Virginia.
What makes you especially enthusiastic about working in the trades and lineman industry?
After a long and enjoyable career of over 30 years as a lineman. I have a special place in my heart for the work; the commitment and the difference a lineman can make in society every day. We stress this is not just merely a job, it is a career lifestyle; working big storms and helping people. Just the pride knowing I am doing a job many would not even attempt.
How does the program curriculum and training give strong preparation to the trainees?
We are a lineworker school to prepare young men and women to enter the trade of a high voltage lineman. We pound safety on and off the job. We again speak of having a commitment, accountability, integrity. Being forthright and honest always. Having your brothers and sisters back. We teach them to climb using fall restriction. We teach them OH and UG construction and the important aspects of both from an entry level workers perspective. In my opinion it takes 7 to 10 years of experience maybe more to become a good lineman. We make sure our students can be productive from day one and can contribute to their crew.
What do employers especially appreciate about your program?
That our students know how to protect themselves. They can contribute from day one. They have a questioning attitude. They learn how to study, take notes, and ask questions. To always be respectful to the journeymen who are taking their time to share their knowledge with you. Our students know they will continue to learn this amazing trade throughout their entire careers.
A Strong Lineman Training Program in West Virginia
What are some metrics of success about your program?
Our students are trained heavily in safety. As you know in the world of High Voltage Line work. Safety, communication, echo protocol, your commitment to team and your fellow workers is everything. We teach all of these things. Our students have done very well getting hired and retained. We drug screen and background check each student so employers know they have completed that. We have climbed them and worked them very hard in the physical aspects of the job. They know when the leave what’s expected of them throughout their entire career. We have over 50 of our students that are working for a large public utility and that is just one company. We teach classes on Saturdays so students can pay their bills and work to better themselves. We are the only line worker program open to anyone with an indoor and outdoor training park within 400 miles.
How has your program evolved over its history?
This program was first started as an exclusive partnership with Allegheny Power and we trained all their new hires in the lineman program. That ended when Allegheny was purchased by First Energy. They had their own schools and training ideas. But instead of a set-back this became even a greater opportunity for Blue Ridge CTC and the community. We moved in another direction. Building an advisory Board of employers and opened up our training to anyone who would like to explore the field and build a better life for them and their families. We are the only facility of this kind open to anyone within 4oo miles. This also allowed our students choice of many employers and many paths. Whether it be high voltage line work, communication work, Substation etc.
Do you have a special success story or favorite alumni story you would like to share?
We have had many great success stories in my 10 years at the helm of this program. Our students have become lineman, lead lineman and Servicemen with public Utilities and Contractors. Our program is a one year Certificate or a 2 year Associate degree depending on the student’s preference. A few years back we partnered with Berkeley County Public schools and created a Jumpstart program. This allows high school students to take college classes with us while in high school. It gives them a huge jump on their degree. We had one such student last year that completed our program and was awarded a job as a Designing Engineer with a public utility at the age of 19. And the multiple stories we have of students topping out, making great monies. Getting married, buying that first house or new car. Controlling their own future. These are our success. This is an example of a great result.
What is one unique benefit that trainees receive from this program?
We offer a tremendous amount of hands-on training. We have an indoor and outdoor pole park. We have tailored our teaching schedule to teach most aspects on Saturdays. This allows a student to still work to pay their bills while improving their lives. We loan all tools and issue all PPE. This allows the only out of pocket for the student is a good pair of climbing boots. We are the only lineman program of this type, open to anyone within 400 miles.
What are a couple other things you wish more people knew about your program?
We do not turn any interested student away. We let each student find their own way and make their own determination as to whether this career is suited for them or not. We allow them to grow and find their niche. If not in linework then one of the many other trade trainings we offer.