Olentangy Valley News

Future power-line technicians reach for the skies at DACC

Career center program offers hands-on (and feet-on) training

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CHRIS PARKER/THISWEEKNEWS
Delaware Area Career Center senior Grant VanHoose climbs a utility pole last Thursday, April 24, during practice for the Power Line Rodeo. The event, which had been set for Friday, May 2, was canceled earlier this week.
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It's normal for students to deal with anxiety before a big test.

It's unusual for that test to occur 40 feet off the ground.

Olivia Hilderbrant, a student in the Delaware Area Career Center's power-line technician program, said that nervousness went away quickly as she practiced climbing. The feelings of anxiety were replaced by exhilaration as she progressed through the program, she said.

"At the beginning, we got up 10 feet and it was pretty scary," she said. "Once you hit 40, it's like your fear is gone."

Instructor Mike Lewis said students can't prepare for a career in the industry without a healthy dose of testing in the field. Within the first four to five months, he expects his students to be able to complete the 40-foot climb on a practice course at DACC's north campus on state Route 521.

"You have to get over the fear if you have a fear of climbing," he said.

Lewis said he's looking for students who love being outdoors and working with their hands. He said students with an athletic or manual-labor backgrounds make good power-line technicians.

"We're looking for stamina to do this job," he said. "It takes a lot of strength."

Lewis should know what makes a good technician. He worked at AEP for 35 years, including 10 years as an instructor in the company's adult-training program.

The career center sought out Lewis to start up its power-line technician program for high school students three years ago. Sixteen students now are involved in the program, which serves students in the Big Walnut, Buckeye Valley, Delaware, Olentangy, Westerville and Worthington school districts.

Lewis said he expects the program to gain enough new students next year for him to split it into two classes, one for juniors and one for seniors. Currently, seniors and juniors study together.

While students learn all of the basics at DACC, they will not work around energized lines until they leave the school and work in the industry as an apprentice.

Although safety is the top priority, Lewis said he also tries to make the class fun. For instance, the class members test their skills against other Ohio career center students annually in a power line rodeo.

This year's rodeo, which was to be held Friday, May 2, at DACC's north campus, was canceled due to inclement weather.

Mason Hill, a senior at Delaware Hayes High School, said he originally was set on training to be a diesel mechanic, but seeing students working on power lines during a sophomore-year visit to DACC changed his mind.

"I just got in it because they got to climb up 40 feet in the air, and I thought that was pretty cool," he said. "I didn't get in it for the money -- I found out you make a lot of money after I got in it."

Lewis said power-line technicians can make a decent living, especially if they're willing to travel. He said apprentice linemen start at $17 to $18 per hour, while experienced workers can make between $37 and $40 per hour.

Lewis said five of the program's first seven graduates now work in the utility industry.

Hilderbrant, a junior at Olentangy High School, said the chance to earn a good living is great, but it's not the best part of the job.

"I like the idea of being outside and active -- constantly doing something," she said.

Hill said he's grown up a lot through his work in the power-line technician program. He said students constantly have to work with their teammates to maintain a safe work environment.

"Here you learn a lot of team-building skills and how to work well with others," he said.

Hilderbrant agreed, noting her fellow students are always watching out for her.

"I love the fact that it's like a brotherhood and sisterhood," she said. "It's one big family."

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