ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Power workers in Texas are working to restore electricity in some of the last homes and businesses after millions of people spent days in the dark dealing with a severe winter storm. That wicked weather is now calling attention to the need for lineworkers nationwide.
From the severe winter storms in Texas to an active hurricane season in Louisiana, it’s been a busy past year for power crews.
“Lineworker personnel are right up there with firefighters and police officers, they do not hesitate to get in those trucks at three in the morning and drive 14-15 hours to wherever they’re needed,” Melissa Seixas, Duke Energy’s State President elaborated.
In a disaster, lineworkers are just as important as first responders, but finding enough trained lineworkers to respond to emergencies is getting tougher. The US is expected to see an 8% or more shortage of power workers within the next three years. Many current line workers are also reaching retirement age, according to Seixas.
Now, St. Petersburg College is working to fill that gap.
On Monday, the college officially opened a new electrical lineworker training ground at the SPC’s Allstate Center location in St. Petersburg. St. Pete college is launching a new 14-week apprentice program to get more lineworkers up to speed right here in Tampa Bay.
Steve Townsend, with Powertown Line Construction, says it’s part of a partnership between the college and private industries to create a pipeline for new workers in the field.
“You don’t want to be scared of heights, scared to work around electricity. It’s a very safe job if it’s done properly and that’s what this training is all about,” he explained.
Duke Energy is investing $100,000 into the program. Funding also comes from the CARES or Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which helps to target people out of work from COVID-19, who are looking to launch into a new career.
Tonjua Williams, St. Petersburg College’s President says attracting a diverse range of students will be critical.
“We will be seeking individuals who want to change their lives, who want to change the trajectory of their families and move from poverty to prosperity,” she elaborated.
The first 14-week class begins on March 15. That’s just in time for the new lineworkers to be trained by the start of hurricane season.
St. Petersburg College plans to offer several scholarships for the new program.
Florida has the fourth highest number of lineworker jobs in the nation. The median salary is around $53,000 a year, according to a news release from St. Petersburg College.
“The role this will play in the community is critical,” Williams added. “Many of our linemen now are up in Texas trying to help. That is why we need to fuel the pipeline here in Florida to make sure we have enough for us to address those disasters.”