Building Opportunities for Workforce Development: PTC’s Lineworker Academy Collaboration with Covia

By: Sunnie Dawn Baker

Sometimes, educators have to think outside the box to help students succeed; and sometimes, partnerships and collaboration within the community can lead to education innovations. The Lineworker Academy at Pontotoc Technology Center recently benefited from these partnerships when the Covia Silica Sand Plant in Roff approached them about an opportunity for hands-on learning that would benefit the students.

The Lineworker Academy will complete its first year on June 25, 2024. It began in August of 2023 and with twelve students. However, since it started, two students got jobs early and one left due to a family emergency. The nine remaining students are currently in the midst of their eight-week internships. Originally, someone who wanted to be a lineworker would start at the very bottom and work their way up; specialized training programs were not available. That is what Jamie Perry, Instructor for the Lineworker Academy, did. Perry says, “I actually became a lineman by accident.” He wanted a job on the railroad and asked his wife’s dad, who had been with the railroad for 35 years, to keep an eye out for opportunities. There was an opening in the signal and communication department and Perry jumped at the chance. He had no clue he would be climbing poles or working with electricity, but he worked his way up to a signalman and ended up spending 32 years in the electrical industry, 22 of which he served as a lineman. While the students in this program still have to work their way up once they have a job and go through the four-step process to become a journeyman or senior line technician, the knowledge and experiences they receive in the Lineworker Academy can accelerate that process and make them more desirable candidates within the workforce.

Recently, the remaining nine students began their internships at various places such as PEC, OG&E, an electric cooperative in Marietta, the railroad, and an electrical subcontractor that works with PEC. This 8-week internship gives the students hands-on experience to learn, connect with employers, but also discern whether or not this is what they really want to do. As Perry notes, lineworkers find joy in the work that they do, especially when they see the excitement when the lights come back on. However, it is also very challenging, involving long nights, grueling hours, and little time at home with family. When the power goes out, it doesn’t matter if there are birthdays, graduations, or anniversaries; the power must be restored. These challenges are another reason why they timed the internships to be during the height of Oklahoma springtime. They will deal with mud and storms, plenty of power outages, and the clean-up that inevitably comes after.

In addition to their internships, though, these students also had a valuable and unique experience for on-the-job training at the Covia Silica Sand plant in Roff. Jonathan Wright, an Engineer with Covia, contacted PTC about offering this opportunity to their students. The participants in the Lineworker Academy spent a week at Covia, clearing out old electrical lines and equipment. It truly was a collaborative effort. PTC had to work closely with Covia to make sure that all the permissions were in place. They also worked with PEC to make sure that there was no electricity flowing through the lines. Then the students got to work. They installed ground chains to make sure that if the lines did become energized, or were hit by lightning, that they would still be safe. Then they started dismantling the old system. Even though the lines were not electrified, Perry instructed the students to act as if they were, simulating the actual environment they will eventually work in.

This opportunity is only possible because of the collaboration between educators and business and industry. Wright says, “At Covia we regularly send employees to the Pontotoc Technology Center to continue to develop their practical skills, so we are excited to give back by providing a secure, safe location for the Lineworker Academy. We think the students will benefit from getting hands-on training in typical, real-world conditions, making the program even more valuable. Covia is proud to support this kind of collaboration between education and industry as part of our efforts to support our community, which benefits everyone. The students gain invaluable skills that will help them excel in their future careers, and at the same time we are supporting the development of a workforce that’s ready to step in and help our business succeed.”

Partnerships with local businesses and industries are crucial to the work done at PTC. It helps the educators home in on what the workforce is needing while also providing connections to the students. These are partnerships that make our community stronger, and the work with Covia is an excellent example of this strategy. Jim Lawson, the Assistant Director for Business and Industry Services at PTC, cannot overstate the importance of these relationships, saying, “I cannot emphasize enough the importance of collaboration and partnerships between PTC and local businesses and industries, especially when it comes to these partnerships that enrich the students’ education and help build robust skills and a well-trained workforce.  Our internship partners and On the Job training opportunities are invaluable when putting the students to the test of their education and learning in the real world.  Career Tech education is all about hands on and real world skills.  Pontotoc Technology Center partners, like the Covia Roff Plant, are shining examples of just how important collaboration with the local business community is to the betterment of our society.”

In an ever-changing world, educators and stakeholders must find new and innovative ways to help students succeed in the workforce. Being a lineworker is not an easy job—far from it—but it offers financial rewards and the satisfaction of helping others. The students in the Lineworker Academy at PTC invest their time and energy in their futures while gaining real-world experience to ensure they are prepared for future challenges and to confirm if this path is right for them. Partnerships with industries like Covia offer additional opportunities for these students to learn, work, and shape their own futures.

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