How the Lineman Profession has Evolved in the Last Twenty Years
Updated: May 9
In 1891 when Henry Miller became the first president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical workers he had a grand vision for how the industry could collectively play a critical role in shaping the future of the world. Even Henry today would admit he could not have predicted all the change that would come in the next hundred plus years.
Today we are focusing on how life and industry has changed specifically for lineman in the last two decades. Since 2000, there has continued to be an increase in the demand for both lineman jobs, lineman apprenticeship as well as dedicated lineman training schools.
In the last two decades lineman safety has greatly improved
It goes without saying from both a corporate employment perspective as well educational standards that lineman safety continues to improve each year. The industry has came a long since its early days in which nearly one in four lineman had work related deaths!
Through technological and ergonomic improves lineman now find it much easier and comfortable to wear flame resistant clothing at all times. This also improvements in rubber insulating gloves, sleeves as well as line blankets themselves. Another area that has seen improvement in 2000 is better design in wood pole fall restrictive devices. Fortunately more and more work can be done with the help of a bucket truck and traditional wood pole climbing is only needed in rural areas and special circumstances.
Another trend that is driving improved safety protocols and preparation is increased data and software for tracking energized components and nominal voltages. The increase of distributed power generation systems and accurate positive-sequence fundamental grid-voltage frequency and magnitude tracking is required to synchronize grid-connected converter-systems. Lineman in the field can be provided with the needed information on high risk areas and repeating problem sections.
Preventable deaths still occur today in the industry and it is Lineman Central's mission to continue to support the employers, lineman apprentice programs, and education initiative to further lineman safety.
Lineman are seeing growing municipal and state employment
Due to the large sample size of both urban and rural positions, analyzing lineman jobs in Texas has historically provided good insights on the industry as a whole. In recent years we have tracked in increase in full time employment for lineman by municipalities as well as district electrical cooperatives. Lineman jobs in Florida have followed a similar trend in recent years. As a segment of the current lineman workforce grows older and is less interested in more exhaustive travel schedules this will be a key metric to monitor. When asked for comment several mayors offices of large cities across the US have stated they are analyzing the cost benefit analysis of full time employment of lineman rather than contracting with outside third parties.
Post apprenticeship line have access to greater options for benefits and retirement
Historically one of the major benefits of being a part of a lineman union is the benefits. The National Electrical Annuity Plan provides approximately 15% to 25% of a lineman gross pay. This depends on the local union. What is important to note about this amount is it is paid by the electrical contractor and not deducted from a lineman paycheck. The National Electrical Benefit Fund is another strong benefit for lineman who elect to be a part of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. This benefit plan provides monthly contribution of 3% of gross pay for electrical workers.
Today being a part of a union is not the only way to access strong benefits however. Young lineman today are actively exploring pre-tax and taxable savings and retirement accounts. The increase in popularity of robo-advisors and low cost index funds have allowed for lineman to get ahead early in savings while keeping management fees low. While these retirement plans may not have any sort of employer match it does allow for a young lineman who may not be ready to commit to a specific employer to have some financial and personal flexibility. In our recent analysis of apprentice lineman jobs in Colorado showed that this was one of the top priorities of lineman under the age of thirty. Apprentice lineman in Georgia followed this pattern as well.
Increasing employment opportunities post-journeyman experience
A final trend over the last two decades that we continue to monitor is non-traditional employment opportunities for lineman on the backend of their careers. The lineman trade is a physically demanding and taxing career. Any opportunity to develop senior level experience (20+ years on the line) into additional employment in the industry is a welcome trend. Historically one of the most common pathways on the backend of a linemans career is instruction and teaching.
Many community colleges and lineman training schools are constantly looking for the best and most experienced lineman to add to their faculty. These types of lineman career positions allow for senior lineman the opportunity to give back to the industry in a less physically demanding way with less travel and more regular hours. Additionally, many public power districts and energy companies are now recognizing the need to have hands on experience in the room alongside grid consultants. This has opened the door for consulting opportunities for veteran lineman who can provide insights on logistics and feasibility for new grid planning.