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Being a lineman means having a career where people look up to you, Eddie Reavis of TCR Management likes to say.
Twenty years working with utility companies in the field has given Reavis a bird's eye perspective on the industry, and he knows there's a high demand for these kinds of skilled laborers.
That led to the creation of TCR Management at the Crossroads Institute to start with the basics for groundsman training, the first step on the way to become a lineman.
It's hard work, but good opportunities are available for those willing to tackle it.
Business developer Dallas Garrett has been working with Reavis to implement the training program, and he calls it workforce development to a high degree.
Starting wage for a groundsman averages about $12 an hour, Garrett said.
Having worked for power and communications companies, Reavis witnessed a lack of training in new groundsmen.
It could take as many as three months of on-the-job training to get them up to speed, he remembers.
"It's just from being out in the field getting new hires sent to me basically having no idea what to do at the job site," Reavis said.
Candidates who take the class at the Crossroads get 96 hours training to prepare them.
They learn safety and protective equipment, identifying different types of ropes, knot tying, fiberglass tools, working with pop tools, cutters, grips and hoists, grounding equipment, kinds of wire, making up house service, transformers, material, installing sleeves on wire, flagger video and testing, review the commercial drivers license class B learner's permit, CPR and First Aid and a 10-hour OSHA class.
Reavis put an ad in the newspaper before starting out to see if there was any interest in the training. As a result, he received more than 50 calls asking about the class.
One of the questions he kept getting was whether the class qualify for job training help from the state.
Reavis worked with the Virginia Employment Commission to make sure it would qualify under the Training Readjustment Act, the Displaced Workers Act, Workforce Investment Act and more.
Those who complete the class get six weeks worth of job placement assistance afterward. "I'm going to do my best to get you a job."
Reavis helps the graduate fix a resume and provides the hand tools the worker will need on the job.
Graduates of the last training class already have jobs with Davis H. Elliott, a electrical contractor providing service in 15 states.
Members of the next class have already gone through job orientation, they'll come back from that to take the training and officially start work in April.
"Soon as they get done they're ready to go to work," Reavis said. He stays in touch with contractors in Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, the Virginias and the Carolinas.
One grad recently sent Reavis a text after responding to help with an outage in New Jersey.
"It's my second week and I'm going out on [a] storm in New Jersey," the text said. "I'm getting a pay raise while I'm up there, too.
"Tell your next class it's work every penny."
The key to training programs like this is to focus on job placement and high-paying jobs, Garrett knows from running similar efforts.
Groundsman or lineman isn't for everybody, Reavis noted. It requires travel at times to restore utility services in emergencies — like the time he responded after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans for a month and worked long days to repair the system there and then went to the Florida Keys after Hurricane Wilma hit.
Skilled workers generally are in high demand, Garrett said. He expects about 120 people to go through the training in a year after it ramps us.
New opportunities can open up for a groundsman, if that worker will move up to apprentice for lineman, Reavis said. It takes between four and five years of work to become a lineman.
TCR Management should start offering linesman training next year.
For those who work their way up to that level, wages can jump up to $27 or $28 per hour.
"As an apprentice your pay just starts going up as you move through that training," Reavis said.
And those who make it to linesman? "You'll have a job where people have to look up to you," he joked.
• For more information about the groundsman training, call Reavis at 276-733-2819 or 236-3077 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.