CFCC Program, Grant Aim To Spark Electric Power Industry Workforce

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Jul 10, 2018
Students in CFCC's new Power Line Technician Program demonstrate Tuesday what skills they have learned in the first weeks of the 10-week program. (Photo by Christina Haley O'Neal)
Nine students are currently getting hands-on training and career development for work in the power sector through Cape Fear Community College's new Power Line Technician Program, developed to address the workforce needs of the utility industry.

The program is now underway and got a boost in funding Tuesday with a $200,000 grant from Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas. David Fountain, Duke Energy's North Carolina president, presented the check to community college officials during a ceremony at CFCC's North Campus at the Advanced and Emerging Technologies building.

"We really recognize that the need for skilled line workers is just going to continue to grow and grow," Fountain said at the event Tuesday. "In fact, nationwide there is a shortage of line workers and that's one of the reasons why we're excited to partner with Cape Fear Community College to help address that very real need."

To fill that shortage, the Carolinas Energy Workforce Consortium has estimated that there is a need for an additional 1,400 power line workers each year for the next five or six years, Fountain said, adding that Duke Energy has been working with the consortium. 

Jim Morton, president of CFCC, said the program represents another example of how the college is "listening to business and industry." He made reference to the Construction Institute, which graduated around 50 students from the program with interviews during the last week in June.

The grant will help fund scholarships and equipment, including trucks, poles and line worker tool kits, college officials said.

Students held a demonstration Tuesday of what they have learned in just the first few weeks of being in the program. As part of the demonstration, students made the climb up practice utility poles (right), a skill set that is part of the program.

"Three weeks ago, these guys couldn't climb," John Downing, dean of continuing education, said at the ceremony.

CFCC's Power Line Technician Program, which began with its first class of nine students June 18, is a 10-week pre-apprenticeship program, Downing said. The program will run every quarter at CFCC with the second class beginning Sept. 10, he said.

Other skill sets students learn in the program include, setting poles; installing cross arms, hardware, lines and transformers; using tools and equipment of the trade through field experience; and safety and teamwork, according to the college's website on the program.

Students will also graduate from the program with their Commercial Driver's License for operating utility vehicles, he said, adding that the CDL will enable them to be work ready while taking their full apprenticeship programs with a large power utility company.

The program is registered with ApprenticeshipNC -- an employer-driven model that combines on-the-job learning with related classroom instruction -- and it is linked to the "full-blown apprenticeship programs" with Duke Power and other utility power companies that have them, he said.

"So as we do the pre-apprenticeship training -- and they get 10 weeks of this intensive training -- and then they go to work, they get a chance to earn as they learn by going into their (utility companies) apprenticeship programs for four years or more, and gain even more skills to become a full-blown lineman," Downing said. 

CFCC has hired retired lineman to teach the program, two full-time teachers and one part-time, with a combined experience of about 65 years, Downing said. The college also has four utility trucks for the program and a practice utility pole yard on site at its North Campus.

The college also received a $47,000 grant from the state community college system office to help with the program, Morton said.

CFCC is one of five community colleges in North Carolina that offers the type of training that's in the Power Line Technician Program, Downing said.

He said the program, with its current instructors, has a capacity of 24 students. Should the college hire additional instructors for the program in the future, Downing said he hopes to grow the program to 50 students a quarter.

"We want to be the best lineman school in the state, and we want to attract folks in our service area to come and get a job and go to work for these [utility] companies, and we also want to attract our Marines and our soldiers [Camp] Lejeune  and Fort Bragg, to come here and take this school and go to work for these same companies," he said.

Workers who come out of the program could start out with a salary of about $30,000 a year "and continue to work in their careers," Fountain said, adding that the average median income for a lineman worker in 2016 was about $60,000 a year.

"I can't think of anything better than putting people to work," Downing said.

And the students in the program already have job offers.

"I've had two companies -- I won't name -- but they have offered to hire everybody that completes the program," Downing said. "So, we have an opportunity here."
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