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Training and Certifying Apprentices

Training today’s apprentice lineworkers has become a priority that no company, large or small, can afford to ignore. Most of the old-timers who trained us are all gone now, and we are now the old-timers who are left to get out the message. The message should not be about getting apprentices to follow safety rules. Rather, the message for apprentices should be about understanding what the hazards really are, knowing how to recognize them and having apprentices learn to think for themselves to avoid the traps that can injure them.

Some apprentices believe they are 10 feet tall and bulletproof. It often is said among young apprentices, “That’s not going to happen to me!” These apprentices are overconfident in their abilities and understanding and take for granted the training they receive. If you have apprentices who are open to learning, serious about their training and ready to take part in the safety of the crew, hang on to them, give them a raise and make a good example of them.

The basic concepts of training apprentice lineworkers have not changed. Regardless of the training material used or the delivery of that training material, many of the skills needed to do the job have remained the same since the beginning. The industry has learned through the years, however, that injuries and near misses usually are the result of a performance pressures, lack of understanding the hazards or both. Misunderstanding the hazards has been the Achilles’ heel of the industry, and even today many still do not understand the consequences associated with this confusion over the industry’s best practices.

Four Proven Steps   
Fortunately, there are several steps in the apprentice training process that have proven to work over the years, including these four.  

  1. Don’t take for granted what apprentices know. Always explain what they need to know to complete their task or ask them to confirm if they understand their training. Everyone learns through different methods, so never assume that the training has been fully understood.
  1. Allow apprentices time to process and plan the task. Assist them in thinking through the technical aspects of the task, how to apply best practices to accomplish the task and what successful results will be accomplished by completing the task safely.
  1. Be consistent with instruction and honest in evaluation, and never think you know it all. Every one of us is always learning – or should be.
  1. Become one of those people who follows instructions. No matter how many times a task is done, review the instructions and teach apprentices to do the same. Some habits are taught by experienced people who have performed a task for years, only to find out that they have been missing a few steps all that time.

An Important Question
Perhaps the most important question related to this topic is, what does a trained apprentice look like? According to OSHA, an employer shall supply training that covers at least the following:

  • PPE, including knowing when to wear it and how to care for it.
  • Safety-related work practices and procedures that pertain to the job so that apprentices become familiar with them.
  • Electrical hazard recognition skills.

In addition, OSHA also requires employers to ensure employees can demonstrate proficiency in all of the above training, and they must retrain any employee if he or she shows inadequate knowledge. Now, I know I paraphrased these rules, so let’s look a little closer at what all of this means.           

The word “know” means to perceive or understand information. To verify if an apprentice knows something he has been trained on, we must observe him demonstrating that knowledge. To be familiar with something means to know it well, and we want our apprentices to be as familiar as possible with their training. A skill is the ability to carry out a task with determined results, such as recognizing electrical hazards. To recognize is to acknowledge or take notice of something in a definite way. To demonstrate means to show how specific information is practical and that it is understood. To be proficient is to possess a great skill.

It takes all of this to become a qualified employee. And now you’re asking, just how long does it take for an apprentice to become qualified? That begs the question, do you certify your apprentices as lineworkers before they are technically qualified per OSHA?

Every company qualifies their lineworkers a little differently. In my opinion, this has become a problem in the industry because of supply and demand. Experienced, qualified lineworkers are in demand and difficult to find. My concern as a longtime lineworker is that we in the industry have bypassed some important training protocols in order to complete the job. Training can only be effective if the trainers are serious about their work.

Technical-based skills are the most important skill set for lineworkers. They must have an understanding of electrical and power equipment and knowledge of electrical currents, voltage and resistance. They also need to possess strong analytical and problem-solving skills, particularly when assessing power cables for repair or replacement or troubleshooting defective equipment. Strong communication skills are helpful as a lineworker may have to interact with contractor personnel as well as management, in addition to creating necessary reports for the company. It is essential that a lineworker be able to work outdoors in all types of weather conditions and complete tasks with little to no supervision.

Whether your apprentices spend time in a classroom and training yard or undergo on-the-job training, or both, be sure to pass along the knowledge and skills that will promote safe work practices. These apprentices may one day become the trainers of tomorrow.

About the Author: Tony Boyd, CUSP, is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction (

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