The Power of a Power Career Pathway: How Western York County Created a Utility Line Worker Program
Prefer to listen? Check out the audio recording of this post instead.
In our last couple of Promising Practices posts, we talked about starting a STEAM school and creating a CTE pipeline. This week, we are looking at how the York school district one and the Clover school district in South Carolina used this process to create a utility line worker career pathway for its students.
In their 2023 Making Schools Work Conference session, “Powering America’s Future: Western York County’s Journey to Implementing a Utility Line Worker Program,” Lee Green, CTE director for Floyd D. Johnson Technology Center in York school district 1; Shannon Clinton, assistant director at Floyd D. Johnson Technology Center; and Tom Siler, the director of state and district partnerships at SREB, discussed how the York school district created a utility line program that worked for its students.
A couple of hundred years ago people got by all the time without lights, but now if our power is out for even a minute, we start to panic! Luckily, though, we don’t usually have to panic for long. That’s because a utility line worker somewhere fixed something and now we are no longer in the dark.
When York school district one and the Clover school district started to plan a new career pathway at their schools, they recognized the importance of utility line careers because unless society gets rid of electricity, we will always need utility workers.
- There are over 120,000 electrical power line installers and repairers and over 299,000 telecom installers and repairers in the US.
- Projections show that there will be a 3 % (average) and 6% (above average) increase respectively in these jobs by 2032.
- The mean salary of an electrical install/repair technician is $82,340 and a telecom install/repair technician is $60,190 as of 2022. (These numbers are higher than the number the county used when planning this career pathway. They rose from $69,380 and $55,060.)
When deciding if a career pathway is right for your school or district, there are a few things to consider:
- Will there be jobs in this field available for students?
- Will there be jobs in this field in your area?
- Will these jobs pay well?
- Can you do something to help students get these jobs?
The career data above shows that utility line work is a growing, well-paying career. However, the school did more than just look at statistics. They also talked to local utility partners, who told them that the utility workforce was aging and that they expected to need “500 lineworkers in the next five years.”
So, with yeses to the first three questions above, it was time to look at how the school could help students get these jobs. This is how they created their program.
While utility line workers have well-paying careers that don’t usually require college degrees, they do require some technical knowledge. This makes it a good choice for a career pathway program at a high school or technical center.
Even if a utility line program may not be right for your school district, you can still use many of these same planning and implementation steps on the program that works best for you.
One of the first things that the school district had to do was pick a career pathway. They did this in part by doing the following:
- Talking to local industry leaders and
- Conducting a comprehensive local needs assessment.
For the comprehensive local needs assessment, a committee made up of local business and education representatives looked at data from the following sources:
- Historical CTE data
- Stakeholder input (collected from surveys)
- Local and regional market forecast analysis
With this initial research done, they moved onto getting support for the program and completed the Innovative Course application with the state to make this an official CTE program.
One of the most important parts of creating a CTE program is getting funding for the initiative. There are many factors to consider when planning funding, from hiring teachers to getting students to a location where the skills can be taught to buying equipment and more.
Here are some of the things the district did to secure funding for their utility line program:
- Applied for grants with the state department and other organizations
- Worked with corporate partners/sponsors who donated money, equipment or materials or created equipment loans
- Got approval to use district funds
- Got state EIA funds for equipment
Along with ensuring funding, a good CTE program or career pathway requires some local partnerships. This is both one of the many ways to get funding, but it also leads to better career information directly from the sources and networking opportunities for the students in the program.
For this particular program, the district partnered with many of the local utility companies, such as Duke Energy, York Electrical Cooperative and Comporium to make sure that they created the best program they could for their students.
Along with funding and partnerships, another thing the school had to consider was what the program would be once they created it. What could they teach students that would help them in these careers?
To do this, they looked at what skills a utility line worker would use in their daily job duties, and they found the following:
- Safety skills
- Climbing skills
- Heavy equipment operation knowledge
- Soft skills such as communication, troubleshooting and more
The program they created needed to provide students with these skills while offering them credentials to attract future employers.
They did this by creating South Carolina’s first ever ULW program for high school students, where students can graduate with a basic line worker certificate, allowing them to go straight to work!
Students are able to join this program in their 12th grade year, and they can do the program in two semesters, where they get 17 credit hours for the classes.
In the fall, they take these three classes:
- Introduction to Electrical Line Worker (3)
- Electrical Computations (2)
- Introduction to Electricity (3)
In the spring, they take another three classes:
- Overhead Line Construction I (3)
- Underground Line Construction I (3)
- Electrical Power Systems (3)
To make the program work, the district partnered with York Technical College, and the courses are taught by a York Tech instructor on the local Floyd D. Johnson Technology Center.
Courses are offered from 9am-12pm each semester and are capped at 12 students each.
If the student decides to go to college after completing the courses, their credit hours can be applied to an associate degree in applied science in management. However, if they decide to go straight to the workforce, they have an industry-recognized certificate that allows them to be job ready at graduation.
One more thing that makes a good career pathway program is the ability to adapt and grow as needed. In the 2022-2023 school year, York saw an opportunity to improve their program by offering a new CDL component.
They created this pilot program with the state Department of Education’s Office of Transportation.
When students are 18, they can take the written test to get a permit. Once they pass, students get two weeks of classroom instruction after they have completed the utility worker courses but before graduation. After behind-the-wheel training, they can take the final test to get a full class A CDL license, boosting their hireability.
When students get their CDL license through this program, the district will arrange and pay for their drug tests and CDL physical.
So how are things going for the students in the program? When it first started, between 2019-2021, numbers were not the best, due to the newness of the program and the pandemic.
In 2021-2022, though, the school saw 83% of their students employed in the utility line industry! We can’t wait to see the numbers for the 2022-2023 school year!
For more success stories and tips on education, keep following the Promising Practices newsletter.