Growing Our Own

Apprentice Tree Trimmer Jared H. returns to our Florence facility after a long day working in the hills. He steps outside, pulls his pockets inside out, and smiles as sawdust and tiny wood chips fall out. “I really enjoy working outside, clearing branches and trees from electrical lines,” Jared H. says, “And I’m helping the community by reducing the number of outages for our customers.”

Many employers report significant difficulty finding qualified workers, and Central Lincoln is among them. In the past year, we’ve had as many as eight openings at once, which is extraordinarily rare. Many of our hard-to-fill vacancies have been in the “trades” – line workers, tree trimmers, meter, communications, and substation shops.

Thanks to some state rule changes, we’ve been able to increase the number of apprenticeships we can offer, and like Jared, one of every 12 of our employees is an apprentice. “Apprenticeships offer paid on-the-job training that not only helps fill needed positions but also continues to develop and educate employees,” says General Manager Ty Hillebrand. “It’s a win-win!”

Apprenticeships have proven to be an excellent strategy: Of approximately 45 trades jobs, 11 are filled by former Central Lincoln apprentices, some of whom have been with us for decades. Now several serve as mentors.

Our apprenticeships pair fulltime work with weekend classroom instruction, study, and testing. Line apprentices also compete in regional or international events to help assess how well our trainees are progressing compared to other utilities. We were very, very proud when our Apprentice Lineman Mike, a native of Coos Bay, recently placed first in the Written Exam event at the Pacific Northwest Lineman Rodeo in Gresham against 57 competitors. His secret? “Just spent some time studying,” he modestly said. Mike is expected to “top out” this month, meaning he will have passed all seven steps, or levels, of his apprenticeship and become a journeyman lineman.

A Central Lincoln Apprentice Lineman working on fully energized power lines.
Apprentice Lineman Mike works on fully energized, or “hot,” lines. Working on hot lines is part of the 7th step of line work, and is required before an apprentice can become a journeyman.

An oversight committee receives monthly reports from foremen and journeymen working with each apprentice, ensuring they are doing quality work, and confirming each apprentice has fully completed the hours and learned the skills required at every step before moving to the next.

Each of our apprenticeships in the trades require years of successful work. Often, job candidates have completed lineworkers’ school in Warrenton, Oregon or Meridian, Idaho before applying with Central Lincoln. Once hired, they usually start as a utility helper, an entry-level position, and they can apply for an apprenticeship as those openings become available.

We find promoting candidates who prefer the climate and activities here tend to stay. One such possibility is Apprentice Lineman Jared B., who grew up in Florence, and really enjoys “fishing, hunting, and riding the dunes,” and has already bought a home here. Apprentice Tree Trimmer Jared H., who graduated from North Bend High School, is expected to top out this month, like Mike. “I really appreciate my foreman, Patrick, sharing his years of experience with me. When he sends me climbing up a 105-foot spruce, I know I can, because he wouldn’t have me do anything I’m not ready for.”

How does this program benefit customers? Highly skilled and trained workers get jobs done safely and quickly, and get power restored faster.