Oct. 18, 2023 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Just talking about climbing 80 feet up a pole, the usually very chill Jack Aalderink gets excited. At 20 years old, Aalderink never thought about linework as a career.
After graduating from Zeeland West High School in 2022, Aalderink was considering either heading to Grand Valley State University for business or becoming a residential electrician.
“I hadn’t really heard about what a lineworker even is or does until a friend of mine told me he was doing it and what it involves.” Aalderink said. The first step for Aalderink was making sure that he isn’t afraid of heights. “I signed up for a two-day climb class through Lansing Community College, which was good because we started out climbing 10 feet, then 15 feet and eventually got up to 40 feet. That is when I knew I would enjoy this work. I was pretty happy when I came upon GRCC’s program because it is closer, cheaper and faster.”
Grand Rapids Community College, in partnership with the Michigan Energy Workforce Development Consortium, began offering a Pre-Lineworker Training Program in 2021. The Program includes: OSHA10 certification/safety, linework physical fitness, basic electricity, and energy industry fundamentals, followed by climbing clinics, orientation and an 11-week climb school in Marshall, Mich.
The GRCC Pre-Lineworker program is very popular, due in part to the high wages associated with linework. An entry level, Step 1 lineworker typically starts at more than $40 per hour. After only seven months, Aalderink is already at a Step 2 level. With each step, lineworkers receive a wage increase, and more training to learn new skills.
“It’s a lot of fun. Each day is different and there is a great sense of accomplishment when you complete a job,” said Aalderink, who started at Consumers Energy last May and has experienced working outside in the Michigan winter. “Working in the winter isn’t bad. You warm up pretty quick once you start moving around and working.”
Last winter, Aalderink worked 16-hour days for nine or 10 days, but that is not typical. A major component to linework is the physical aspect.
“When I came into the program, I thought I was in pretty good shape. The physical fitness portion of the GRCC program definitely prepares you well. The job is very physical and the training is somewhat similar to boot camp. It’s all on the student to take the initiative to do the work outside of class,” Aalderink said. “The class only meets once a week so you have to be disciplined and do the workouts outside of class time. I was working out an additional five days a week.”
The 11-week climbing school in Marshall is offered by Consumers Energy to its five educational partners: Grand Rapids Community College, Lansing Community College, Jackson College, Alpena Community College, and Mott Community College.
“When you take the climbing school, you still aren’t hired. In my climb school cohort, we started with fifteen and nine of us were hired,” Aalderink said. “Those other six didn’t finish the program and left within the first couple weeks. The climb school really pushes you just enough. You want to be prepared.”
Linework isn’t the only career that focuses on the energy industry. There are a variety of positions that most people never hear about. Due to the need for workers in the energy field, employers partnered with GRCC to build a new one-year Energy Technician Certificate program. The Energy Technician Certificate Program combines both credit classes as well as non-credit classes from GRCC. This stackable credential program allows a student the flexibility to take core courses before determining which pathway they would like to pursue.
“These are the types of careers that are not often talked about known to high schoolers,” said Aalderink. “I wouldn’t have really known about this as a career choice if I didn’t know someone who was already doing it.”
A successful student who completes the GRCC Energy Technician program will earn certifications from the American Red Cross and an Energy Industry Fundamentals Certificate.
Students will also receive training in test preparation for apprentice opportunities, basic electricity, blueprint reading, hand and power tools, project management and health/endurance training. This certificate can be a great pathway to a career as a lineworker or any of the other positions open in the energy sector.
GRCC and its employer partners are offering an information session about the Energy Technician program at 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, at the GRCC Tassell MTEC, 622 Godfrey Ave. SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. Parking is free and easy. Please register at grcc.edu/energytrades.
This story was reported by Elly Bainbridge