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Are You Prepared for the Next Generation of Lineworkers?

The next generation of lineworkers is beginning to step in to fill the shoes of retiring baby boomers and most utilities haven’t even begun to think about what it’s going to take to train and educate these new apprentices. Is your company prepared for the next generation? This article offers suggestions for the training planner to consider as you prepare your updated training plan.

Strategic Planning
Your organization needs a plan that identifies training goals and the steps that will be taken toward accomplishing those goals. Developing the training plan is usually best accomplished using a strategic planning team. The strategic planning team should include a diverse group of employees and management who can create a successful training and succession plan from the apprentice level through the crew supervisor level.

The traditional method to educate students has been on-the-job training supplemented by instructor-led guidance, followed by the students demonstrating their new proficiencies in the field or training yard. The industry will never get away from the fact that a hands-on approach to learning new skills is necessary for lineworkers, trade workers and others to become well-rounded in their disciplines.

That being said, we are living in an age of rapidly advancing technology with learners who are familiar with technology-delivered training. Will your new learners be successful if you only employ traditional ways of delivering training or is it necessary for your organization to adopt and use technology as a training delivery tool? Personal computers, smartphones, tablets and related devices are flooding our homes, workplaces and schools. These new technologies continue to create learning opportunities that challenge the traditional classroom setting by giving people the option of learning at their own pace wherever an Internet connection is available. There are a number of third-party providers such as T&D PowerSkills (www.tdpowerskills.com) that offer Web-based tools that supplement conventional instructor-led approaches.

Outlining the Journey
Good programs combine individual assessments and training effectiveness assessments to support program success. Team-guided individual skills assessments are used to create and implement training programs that focus on the particular skills necessary for your workers in their particular crafts. Training assessments focus on the training plan and delivery. Continual review and assessment of the training plan by the strategic planning team assures that necessary changes are in place to meet the skills needs. A strategic organizational plan with the right components will help to ensure your success in the face of new challenges. Constant review and improvement of the training program cultivates high levels of participation and ownership among the workforce, and also gives your management team regular insight into workplace realities when making training decisions.

When you begin to move an organization out of familiar territory, you risk employees feeling lost and questioning whether or not they are on course. You can avoid these situations by creating an outline of the journey and making sure everyone knows the ins and outs of the strategic plan. It is beneficial to hold preplanning meetings during which you sit down with everyone to spell out the course to be taken and the rationale for the journey. People who know what is being done and why tend to support efforts more strongly and intelligently. Outlining the steps to be taken and the intermediate destinations you will reach along the way will help everyone avoid feeling lost while accurately measuring progress toward the desired final destination.

Training Program Content
Safety training is a part of any good craft skills training program. OSHA does not regulate craft skills training, but does have specific requirements for safety training associated with safety-related tasks. There are OSHA standards that apply directly to safety-related skills. It’s important that everyone involved in the assessment process understands the following two OSHA sections.

Regarding safety training, 29 CFR 1910.269(a)(2)(i) states, “Employees shall be trained in and familiar with the safety-related work practices, safety procedures, and other safety requirements in this section that pertain to their respective job assignments. Employees shall also be trained in and familiar with any other safety practices, including applicable emergency procedures (such as pole top and manhole rescue), that are not specifically addressed by this section but that are related to their work and are necessary for their safety.”

Regarding qualified employees – those permitted to work on or near exposed energized parts – 29 CFR 1910.269(a)(2)(ii) states that they must be trained and competent in:
• The skills and techniques necessary to distinguish exposed live parts from other parts of electric equipment.
• The skills and techniques necessary to determine the nominal voltage of exposed live parts.
• The minimum approach distances specified in this section corresponding to the voltages to which the qualified employee will be exposed.
• The proper use of the special precautionary techniques, personal protective equipment, insulating and shielding materials, and insulated tools for working on or near exposed energized parts of electric equipment.

The training required by this section must take place either in a classroom or on the job. The degree of training provided should be established based on the risk to the employee, which is determined by performing a job safety analysis to identify tasks and associated hazard levels.

Plans and Resources
Training new lineworkers is a journey, and there are many types of programs and ways to effectively establish them. Here are some common resources that a planner can use to develop an effective training program:
• Standard lineworker apprentice program: This type of program allows the employer to identify necessary skills and develop the necessary training program.
• Cross-training knowledge transfer: In this technique, experienced lineworkers transfer knowledge to apprentices via hands-on field work. This is an element of any good training program.
• Registered apprenticeship programs: Typically, a minimum of four years or up to 8,000 hours of experience is recommended in some states to become an entry-level journeyman.
• Continued training opportunities: By attending update training, as well as employee and leadership development classes, journeymen lineworkers are able to expand their knowledge and sharpen their skills.

A good training program must also include mandatory update training in compliance with:
• OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(a)(2)(iii), which states that the employer shall determine, through regular supervision and through inspections conducted on at least an annual basis, that each employee is complying with the safety-related work practices required by this section.
• OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(a)(2)(iv), which states that an employee shall receive additional training or retraining under the following conditions:
o If the supervision and annual inspections required by paragraph (a)(2)(iii) indicate that the employee is not complying with the safety-related work practices required by this section.
o If new technology, new types of equipment or changes in procedures necessitate the use of safety-related work practices that are different from those that the employee would normally use.
o If he or she must employ safety-related work practices that are not normally used during his or her regular job duties.
• OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(a)(2)(vii), which states that the employer shall certify that each employee has received the training required by paragraph (a)(2). The certification shall be made when the employee demonstrates proficiency in the work practices involved and shall be maintained for the duration of the employee’s employment.

The core business of power companies and contractors is building power lines and delivering electricity; it’s not necessarily having the special skills and experience to do periodic evaluations and development and technical transfer work. Employers may want to consider hiring third-party professional trainers to help develop this component of their training program to determine what journeyman update training is recommended. For example, based on the results of an evaluation placement test, journeyman update training classes may be recommended for grounding, tagout, switching and other safe work procedures. Many employers turn to third-party providers such as the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction (www.ispconline.com) that provide expertise in evaluating the knowledge and skills of a company’s lineworkers.

Achievable and Worthwhile
Preparing for the next generation of lineworkers is an achievable and worthwhile goal, and may be the ultimate strategic advantage. Once you have an outline for your journey, the organization’s next move is to focus on successfully completing each step. When people see visual progress toward their goals, their motivation increases and progress happens more quickly. Be prepared for the future by taking the proper steps today toward planning and execution.

About the Authors: Emily Wilkins, CSA, CUSP, owner of EW Safety Consulting, is a former safety compliance coordinator for Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative with 10 years of experience in the electric utility industry. She is an at-large chapter development board member for the Utility Safety & Ops Leadership Network and serves as secretary of the Texas Roundtable of Utility Safety Teams. Wilkins is also the 2012 recipient of the Carolyn Alkire Safety Advocate Award, which is given to those in the utility industry who display a passion for safety.

Ryan Schenk is sales manager for T&D PowerSkills, a lineworker apprenticeship training program. He previously worked for Red Simpson Inc., a utility contractor, and the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction, a nonprofit sister company to T&D PowerSkills. Schenk is a graduate of Louisiana State University.

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