SMECO newsletter

volume 67 - issue 9 - September 2017

SMECO partners with CSM to prepare electric utility professionals

The Cooperative is frequently asked about possible opportunities to become a SMECO lineman. Building and maintaining electric facilities can be hazardous work and it requires a skilled workforce to perform the necessary duties safely in often less-than-ideal conditions. Individuals who perform this work must be well-trained to ensure their safety and the reliability of the electric system.

When the Cooperative needs more linemen to expand its workforce or to fill vacancies, it hires new apprentices who are trained in groups. Each class of linemen goes through four years of training, following eight steps that take six months each. The apprentices move up the steps based on tests of their knowledge and their skill in line work. This process gives apprentices hands-on time and experience in the field while they work with experienced crews to prepare to work safely on their own.

When SMECO opens up the application process for a new lineman training class, we receive hundreds of applications, but too few of the applicants have the skills necessary to even begin to learn the job.

"Some have no idea how to properly climb a ladder or use a shovel," said Jason Atherton, technical training manager at SMECO. "All utilities are having a hard time finding qualified applicants."

SMECO and the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) worked together to create the Pre-Apprenticeship Program to provide practical electric utility worker training. The 12-week program of courses, which will be offered at CSM's new Regional Hughesville Campus, focuses on skills candidates need to enter utility training programs, as well as skills that are desirable in any of the trades. Students who complete the program will earn a continuing education certificate from CSM and will be prepared to begin an Apprenticeship. SMECO reached out to all regional electric utilities and contractors to alert them to this new resource and encouraged them to support the program.

"SMECO has been collaborating with CSM on a program of study to meet a very important need. What they have come up with is truly exciting," said SMECO President and CEO Joe Slater, announcing the Pre-Apprenticeship Program at the April 25 dedication and ribbon-cutting for CSM's new Center for Trades and Energy Training (CTET) at the Regional Hughesville Campus.

Apprentice group 21 using the SMECO lineman training yard.

"Students will spend 12 weeks learning core construction skills and safety practices here in the CTET," Slater said, "and then they will go across the road to SMECO's lineman training yard for basics in electric utility work, including pole climbing, which is the great leveler. SMECO will be providing the electric utility practicum as a community service and good partner with CSM." Atherton will serve as the SMECO instructor for the 40-hour field practicum portion of the course.

"It involves a lot of safety training," said CTET Director Bruce Posey about the certificate requirements. The courses required for the certificate will cover topics such as excavation safety, working in confined space, first aid, and CPR and core construction skills."

SMECO has also funded two scholarships to assist promising students who demonstrate financial need and are from an underserved population for the fall 2017 semester. In addition, scholarships are available through the CSM Foundation.

Employers who hire students from this pool are getting a new employee with the training necessary to be placed on the job site almost immediately.

Apprentice group 21 using the SMECO lineman training yard.

"If you don't have any skills, it's tough to find a job," Posey said. "We can help you get the skills needed to be considered for employment."

Class begins in late summer/early fall. To learn more about the scholarships, contact the CSM Foundation at 301-934-7649. For information on CSM's Pre-Apprenticeship Program, visit