At Duke Energy’s St. Petersburg Operations Center, Alejandro Guillen walked through the aisles of the supply room picking up insulators, bolts and other materials to change out a power pole. It only took him a few minutes to grab what his crew would need and load up their truck.
When he started as an apprentice lineworker two years ago, that task would’ve taken him a lot longer. Picking materials is time-consuming for new lineworkers – there are hundreds of terms and tools to learn, so he’d have to carefully check his list and read every label to make sure he got the right parts.
“They don’t have to hand me a sheet anymore,” Guillen said. “I just grab the stuff we need and head out.”
Guillen is one of about 7,000 Duke Energy lineworkers who maintain and repair power lines and equipment. Much of their training comes from on-the-job experience, but programs like the one at St. Petersburg College in St. Petersburg, Fla., can give them a head start.
Guillen completed the 14-week lineworker training program in 2021 and knew he found a lifelong career.
He was a paramedic and wanted a career change, so when a friend told him about the college’s program, he gave it a try (even though he’d never heard of linework). Guillen learned the basics of how electricity is generated and delivered to millions of people, how to climb poles, and what to expect as a lineworker. He also realized he’d have the satisfaction of helping people by keeping the lights on and restoring power after storms.
“Going from EMS to linework, I’m still helping the community,” Guillen said. “There’s still that passion inside that says I want to help people – I didn’t want to do it as a paramedic anymore, so I asked myself, ‘How else can I do that?’”
He finished the program with certifications in CPR, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, a commercial driver’s license and, most importantly, a job offer from Duke Energy.
Instructor Steven Magenheimer, a retired Duke Energy lineworker, helped design the curriculum based on Duke Energy’s training and has taught more than 120 students since 2021. He had a feeling Guillen would be successful.
“He was engaged when he came here. He had a plan, and he stuck with it,” Magenheimer said. “He’s gonna be the way of the future. He’s going to make sure the light switch still works in 20 years.”
Magenheimer said more than 100 students have found jobs either as a lineworker or in a field that requires a commercial driver’s license.
“Those numbers,” he said, “are what makes me happy.”
They make St. Petersburg College President Tonjua Williams, Ph.D., happy, too.
They started the program after learning lineworkers were in high demand at Duke Energy. Williams thought a program like this would help the company and the community.
“People need jobs, and they may not want to do the long haul of a degree,” Williams said. “This was not only an opportunity for us to help others gain economic mobility but meet the needs of one of our major workforce partners.”
Now, the college is working with other employers in banking, manufacturing and health care to identify hard-to-fill jobs and design programs that help build a talent pipeline.
“There's too big of a gap between workforce and education, so we’re trying to close that gap to meet the needs of our workforce,” Williams said. “The more we come together like we did on this lineworker partnership and so many others that we've created since the partnership with Duke Energy, we can start closing that gap and place students in high-wage-paying jobs.”
Interested in becoming a lineworker?
With help from participating colleges in North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky and Florida, Duke Energy aims to increase access to industry-recognized lineworker training that can lead to promising careers.
“It takes a diverse team of dedicated and talented people to power the lives of millions,” said Melissa Seixas, Duke Energy Florida state president. “We are fortunate to have these passionate members on our team, and we look forward to adding more, thanks to state and community college programs and other organizations across our service areas that are training the next generation of lineworkers.”
Learn more about lineworker training programs in the six states Duke Energy serves here.