Updated: May 9, 2021
We recently sat down with Keith Dinwiddie, Technical Programs Director, at Ozarks Technical Community College. We estimate there are over two thousand lineman in the state of Missouri. Common employers of lineman include ADB Companies and Evergy. Ozarks Community College is of the top training programs in the region and we dug in further to learn more.
Preparing lineman for jobs in Missouri
What makes you especially enthusiastic about working in the trades and lineman industry?
Electrical lineworkers serve a vital role in the modern world. Without them, the electricity we depend on for almost everything in our world wouldn’t flow. These men and women work in all kinds of weather building, maintaining and repairing America’s electrical grid. The electrical distribution field is also full of unique challenges that are their own reward. Every job location has its own unique set of weather, soil, terrain, and other factors that make even routine tasks different. The electrical distribution field allows our graduates to travel to other states and even other countries to use their skills to repair massive storm damage or build new lines to bring electricity to an area for the first time.
On top of the highly satisfying work, lineworkers earn excellent wages. For many of our students this is a life-changing field, which allows them to leave a life of poverty and build more prosperous lives for their families. OTC’s program has grown through word-of-mouth advertising. Many of our applicants either know someone or are related to someone who is a current student or has graduated from the program. The applicants’ excitement grows when they learn more about the engaging, hands-on classwork, and hear about the career opportunities available to our students.
How does the program curriculum and training give strong preparation to the trainees?
We use a scaffold approach to our classes where each class builds on the previous one, which gives our students plenty of time to master all the key skills needed to excel in the electrical distribution field. Commercial driving is a part of the college’s curriculum; therefore all our students graduate with a Class A CDL -- a prerequisite for almost all jobs in the field.
Of course, we can teach all sorts of skills, but if they aren’t job applicable then they’re useless to our students and their potential employers. We have an exceptionally strong advisory committee, which helps keep our curriculum aligned with the needs of employers in the industry. As students progress in the training, we organize them into crews with specific tasks to complete, which prepares them for their employer’s needs when they graduate.
Since our program is a two-year degree, students have time to hone the base skills and we can expose them to many of the situations and weather issues they will face out in the field. Between the first and second year, our students intern with electrical providers to get a taste of the real world, discover how to use their knowledge on the job, and figure out what skills they need to master in the coming year to be job ready. Not only is this an invaluable learning experience, the internship gives our students a chance to show what they can do and, possibly, opens the door to a job when they graduate. Due to the fact students are on campus two days a week, many have been able to continue working as interns during their second year of school on their non-class days. Not only are they getting paid this whole time, but they are also adding hours of experience to their resumes and accelerating their learning.
Strong apprenticeship opportunities for lineman in Missouri
What do employers especially appreciate about your program?
One significant thing we have gotten a lot of praise over is that our students have their Class A CDL when they go to intern over the summer. For our federal employers, this is a key requirement for interns and it is very advantageous for many of the other employers as well. Employers are also appreciative of the length of our program. As a two-year, associate of applied science degree program, our students are about halfway to a bachelor’s degree if they choose to seek higher level degrees in future. The two-year length also gives students plenty of time to learn and perfect the skills they need to be lineworkers. Plus, by persisting for two years to a degree, our graduates show grit and dedication, which are attractive attributes for potential employers.
Some of the comments we’ve heard from industry partners who have either hired our interns or watched one of our classes, include:
A supervisor who hired one OTC intern over each of the last two summers said they were the best interns he’s worked with in the past 20 years.
Another person commented on how well our students worked together as a team.
“Your students look like linemen,” is another comment we often hear from class observers.
What are some metrics of success that you like to tout about your program (employment, safety, enrollment, etc)?
We started our program in the fall of 2018, and we’ve started every year with full courses. In fact, our first class graduated at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic with 20 completing the degree, and of those, a large majority have jobs in the industry. Our program is a selective admissions program because we have more applicants than we have open slots in each class. For those applicants who do not get in, we advise them to attend general education courses and re-apply the following year to make it easier on themselves when they do gain admission to the program.
How has your program evolved over its history?
Our Associate of Applied Science in Electrical Distribution Systems degree started at the Ozarks Technical Community College Lebanon Center in the fall of 2018. This was largely due both to a gracious donor, Mr. Bill Williams, who made a cash donation to the program, and working closely with local electrical co-ops and utilities. We received poles, trucks, wire, crossarms, coverups, transformers, and other materials from Laclede Electric Cooperative, Co-Mo Electric Co-Op, Consolidated Electric Cooperative, Southwest Electric Cooperative, ABB, Sho-Me Power Electric Co-Op, AMEC, and other companies to help make the program successful.
The interest in our program has grown so much that we plan to replicate the program at our Richwood Valley Campus. The support from our local cooperatives and utilities has been overwhelmingly positive and we are very thankful for their input. Thanks to our large and active advisory group, we are fine tuning our program to provide the best training we can to launch our students’ careers.
Do you have a special success story or favorite alumni story you would like to share?
One of our first cohort students came in with some experience in the field, but chose to attend our school to get a leg up on his peers and enhance his career. After graduation, he joined a Missouri-based electrical contractor company that performs storm repair all over the country. He came back this spring to speak to our graduating class and it was inspirational! He helped them see all the great employment options out there and shared his insights on the business. He is on track to make $150,000 this year, which is a phenomenal amount for a recent graduate in any two-year program!
Supporting strong lineman jobs in Missouri
What is one unique benefit that trainees receive from this program?
We made the CDL a part of our curriculum in the first semester of instruction. Most lineworker training programs make the CDL something that students must seek on their own. Without a Class A CDL, a prospective employee is basically considered unqualified for employment by the utilities and cooperatives, thus making the CDL is a key requirement. We emphasized the need to include the CDL when we designed our program, and our advisory group reiterated its importance. By making this licensure a part of our curriculum, students can use their financial aid to help offset the cost as they get 40 hours of classroom learning to earn their driving permit plus another 120 hours of driving instruction behind the wheel. At the end of the fall semester, students have earned six credit hours of driving instruction and a Class A CDL without restriction. To date we have had a 100% pass rate on the CDL training.
What are a couple other things you wish more people knew about your program?
Classes are two days a week, Tuesday and Thursday for the first year and Monday and Wednesday for the second year. The first semester, students must attend one extra day per week for the CDL training. We also offer the recommended general education classes in the evenings so our students can complete all their classes during the two days they attend the OTC Lebanon Center. Between the lineworker classes and the general education requirements, our students put in some long days, which often last from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.; but our students then have multiple free days open for those who wish to work.
Our program is a selective admissions program, which means after a student applies to OTC and declares their intention to enroll in the EDS program, the student should email their contact information to email@example.com to receive the current application packet. We take applications from January 1 to June 1 and make admission decisions immediately following the close of applications. Our decisions are based on a points system and the criteria we use to award points is available in the application packet.