Lineman School Scholarships Open Lucrative Employment Opportunities to Students of Color
Pictured above: T’Andre Tarvin in week three of Communications Lineworker Program training at SLTC.
High in the skies atop power poles and deep below streets tending to vital fiber infrastructure, lineworkers are the powerhouse of the energy industry. They are highly trained and well-compensated for their work. Ketha Richardson, Director of Inclusion, Diversity, and Corporate Training at EPB in Chattanooga is working to connect the dots between this lucrative career and Hamilton County students of color.
“The energy and communications industry is facing a retirement bubble in about five to ten years,” Richardson explains. “It’s important that as we address our need for linemen, we also work to be more diverse.”
In 2014 with encouragement from TVA, Richardson helped charter the Chattanooga chapter of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE), which is a national association of energy professionals founded and dedicated to ensure the input of African Americans and other minorities into the discussions and developments of energy policies, regulations, R&D technologies, and environmental issues.
AABE has been committed to awarding students of color STEM scholarships since its inception. Until now, those scholarships focused on four-year college programs. But Richardson recognized a novel opportunity when he toured the Southeast Lineman Training Center (SLTC) in Trenton, Georgia.
Founded in 1999, the SLTC is a premier lineworker training school. Programs prepare students for electric utility and telecommunications careers worldwide. The campus boasts 100+ acres of training grounds complete with poles, equipment, and ample space for field training.
Richardson describes SLTC as a secret in plain sight.
“I’ve spent my career in this industry and until I visited, I didn’t even know SLTC was here. Most students are from New York and other faraway states. Each class serves 300 electric students and 20 to 30 communications students and there’s a waiting list – yet we in Chattanooga were unaware of this resource so near to us. I also saw, and SLTC recognizes, that there is a lack of minorities in the program and industry. Given EPB’s relationship with Hamilton County Schools, I could see an opportunity.”
To begin, AABE and EPB piloted an effort at Tyner High School to encourage students to explore energy and telecommunications career paths. Students were exposed to hands-on learning opportunities and a group went to SLTC to see training in action. Two students received scholarships for SLTC training.
“One of the students, Melique, has graduated and is working in the EPB communications department. Another young man, T’Andre, will graduate SLTC soon – and by week three, he was climbing poles and working 65 feet in the air,” Richardson says.
Now, the partnership is building on its early success. Benwood, TVA, EPB, SLTC, IBEW, Chattanooga 2.0, and Hamilton County Schools have formalized a vision to provide scholarships to 75 students over the next 3 years, with focused outreach at Tyner, East Ridge, Howard, Red Bank, Central, Brainerd, and Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy. These last-dollar scholarships combined with funding from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act will cover the full cost of tuition and housing for students in Trenton for the eight-week Communications Lineworker Program (CLP).
The CLP prepares and equips each student with the training, skills, and experience necessary for a variety of high-demand, good-paying jobs including aerial construction, underground construction, and cellular. Graduates earn ten certifications: Fiber Optics Splicing; OSHA 10-hour ET&D Training; First Aid; CPR; NSC Flagging; Digger Derrick Operator; Class A CDL License; Climbing; Pole Top Rescue; and Bucket Truck Rescue. The average communications lineworker makes $62,000 annually with the top 90% making $100,000 or more.
“I believe the most important thing you can do is help someone get a job,” Richardson says. “You can feed your family well in this industry, and that can change families for generations.”
Learn more about lineworker careers and SLTC training at www.lineworker.com.
Participate in scholarships for minority STEM students via AABE.org or the Hamilton County Schools Foundation.