Co-op Support for Lineworker Training Schools Critical as Career Field Grows

For electric lineworkers, safety starts long before the hardhat and insulated gloves are ever put on. It starts with classroom learning and hands-on training that provide lineworkers with the knowledge and skills critical for protecting them from danger as they build and maintain the electric system that powers everyday life.

Through a robust Job Training & Safety program shared by North Carolina’s 26 electric cooperatives, present and future lineworkers commit to putting safety first through new and continuing education courses at lineworker schools that feature cutting edge technologies for hands-on training, as well as classroom instruction. “The business we’re in requires that safety is part of a lineworker’s DNA,” said Farris Leonard, director of job training & safety for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives. “Our team is committed to facilitating that culture of safety in everything we do from training schools to our time working directly with cooperative teams.”

Farris Leonard, director of job training & safety for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, speaks with an electrical lineworker class at James Sprunt Community College.

Lineworker Schools

Since 1998, North Carolina’s electric cooperatives have partnered with Nash Community College in Rocky Mount, which operates the Lineman Training Academy. The program was created by the co-ops to provide training for lineworkers as they entered the field, as well as an important opportunity for academic advancement, as students can combine their job training with academic curriculum to graduate with an associate’s degree in two years.

Beyond the formal partnership with Nash Community College, North Carolina’s electric cooperatives have worked with community colleges across the state on lineworker training programs and other workforce development initiatives for years.

Cooperative lineworkers attend training classes at Nash Community College.

“Cooperatives have been instrumental in working with community colleges across North Carolina to draw interest from students,” said Leonard. “Many of these schools are located in the same rural areas where our co-ops are based, and they have a real impact on our communities and workforce.”

Lineworker Career Field Set to Grow

Approximately 1,400 lineworkers serve North Carolina’s 26 electric cooperatives, and there are more than 120,000 electric lineworkers nationwide. The career field is rapidly expanding and lineworker jobs are in demand across North Carolina and the nation.

“A large percentage of the workforce has retired or will retire over the next several years taking their knowledge and experience with them, which makes our focus on training and development even more important,” said Leonard.

“Co-ops must continue to be leaders in advancing and improving workforce development for lineworkers across our state,” he added. “These jobs are in demand in North Carolina and the need for qualified lineworkers will only continue to grow.”

With a high demand for entry-level lineworkers, training programs have become more important than ever. Currently there are 10 lineworker schools in operation across North Carolina. While this number is expected to grow, Leonard says coordination will be key.

“With coordination comes consistency,” he said. “Consistent training programs will allow co-ops to have the same expectations for their lineworkers after completion and allow a smoother and safer transition into the field.”

Patience and Safety are Key for Trainees

This summer marks two years since leaders at James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville, N.C. asked Leonard and his Job Training & Safety team for advice and information about the types of programming that would create a structured and disciplined training school for interested students.

To kickoff the program for the third class of students, Leonard was invited to share his thoughts on how students can make the most of their time in the program. Noting that a steady, methodical pace allows for critical thinking, Leonard conveyed a simple and important message, “Be patient and relentlessly focused on safety.”