Submitted by Orcas Power and Light Cooperative.
OPALCO has hired three new linemen apprentices – one for each of the crews on Lopez, Orcas and San Juan.
“With some of our linecrew hitting the 25-, 30- and even 40-year mark in their careers with the co-op, we have to plan for future,” says General Manager, Foster Hildreth. “These guys are the key to the work we do at OPALCO.”
Becoming a journeyman lineworker is no small task. The apprenticeship is a structured four-year program that includes bi-monthly trips to the mainland, testing every six months, after-hour studying and boot-camp style training courses at a specialized camp in Oregon. Journeymen lineworkers must be prepared to work outside in all weather conditions, keep themselves safe in a high-voltage environment and make the commitment to stay focused on this intensive program over four years while working.
During the training period, apprentices must work full-time (8,000 hours) and advance through the seven steps of the program. Apprentices install, maintain and repair power lines, identify defective equipment, climb poles and work long hours to restore power. They must follow the strict set of safety standards and procedures. They will also master a wide variety of skills including electrical work, operating heavy machinery, rigging, using hand tools and more.
San Juan Island’s Jordan Ross, who is completing his apprenticeship this month, graduated from Friday Harbor High School and came back to the island in 2015. Ross describes the apprenticeship as “a challenging but extremely rewarding experience – one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”
Most apprentices spend the four years on-call and working as many late night outage calls as they can. Some of the most extensive learning happens when the crew rallies together to solve the mystery of an unplanned power outage.
Apprentices can choose to participate in other internships to learn things their utility doesn’t have. During his second year as an apprentice, Ross completed a two-week internship with BPA to learn about high-voltage overhead transmission lines.
OPALCO’s three new apprentices, who are all from the islands, were hired through a highly competitive process. If possible, OPALCO prefers to hire from a local pool of applicants to provide living wage work to our own community members.
Kyle Hofmann graduated from Orcas Christian School and was living in Tacoma with his wife and daughter, who is 18 months old. He was selling insurance and fishing commercially for the company owned by his parents. Hofmann and his wife were more than ready to move back to Orcas.
“I loved growing up here and want to give that to my daughter,” he said.
Rio Black, a recent graduate of Friday Harbor High, was living in Arizona making minimum wage in a welding apprenticeship.
“This is my home and I’m glad to be able find a good, solid job I can rely on for well into my future,” Black said.
Ken Bair from Lopez said, “I like being involved in my community and helping people so the OPALCO job was a perfect fit for me.”
Bair grew up on Lopez and graduated from Spring Street International School. He’s been a volunteer firefighter for 14 years and also helps each year with the fireworks. Ken lives with his wife and 4-year-old son.
“We lucked out!” says Hildreth. “These apprentices are top notch, island-grown kids and now they are the future of OPALCO. We feel very fortunate to have such a stellar team.”