According to the US Department of Energy, there are more than 450,000 miles of high voltage transmission lines delivering electricity throughout the United States. That’s enough to circle planet Earth more than 15 times– and that doesn’t even include all the local connections within neighborhoods, cities and other communities.
As the mechanism that distributes electricity from power stations to homes, businesses, and industry, there is a good reason why the Department of Homeland Security defines the power grid as critical infrastructure: Without it, the United States would be plunged back into the dark ages.
America is big, and we rely on literally hundreds of thousands of miles of power line to maintain the modern standard of living and to keep the wheels of industry turning. It takes a lot of lineman to keep up on the repairs, upgrades, maintenance and additions to the nation’s power infrastructure. In fact, according to the US Department of Labor, there were 236,600 line workers employed in the US as of 2014, and another 13,600 expected to join the workforce in the ten-year period leading up to 2024.
Electrical power line installers and repairers go by a litany of titles:
- Outside lineman/lineperson
- Overhead lineman/lineperson
- Electric line technician
- Utility line electrician
- High voltage electrician
- Overhead distribution lineman/lineperson
- Aerial lineman/lineperson
No matter what title they might go by in different jurisdictions, the steps involved in entering the profession and the critical duties they perform are much the same throughout the nation.
Duties of Electrical Power Line Installers and Repairers
Installing, maintaining, and repairing electrical power lines takes a team of tradesmen that are as flexible and adaptable as they are skilled. There aren’t many professions out there where the job site changes daily, and often several times a day. This means lots of travel, whether throughout a city, county, state, or even throughout a larger multi-state region.
Linemen work in rain, freezing conditions, extreme heat, and snow. In fact, the worse the weather, the more work there usually is to get done. In the dead of winter in the aftermath of an ice storm while everybody waits at home for power to be restored, linemen are in the air repairing downed power lines to make it happen.
In a job like this, there are no typical days, but there are some standard duties that come with working as a lineman:
- De-energize electrical power lines
- Fuzz power lines, use voltmeters and multimeters, and perform other evaluations to determine a power line has been de-energized
- String overhead wire, including telecommunications cables
- Install (set) utility poles and anchors
- Install cutouts and crossarms
- Install insulators, switches, and switchgear
- Clear faulted circuits and systems
- Work with live high voltage systems wearing a faraday suit and with other special instruments/precautions
- Assist in hooking up and installing single phase transformers
- Ground wires and transformers
Getting Started in Your Career Through a Lineman Apprenticeship Program
The path to becoming a lineman would typically begin with going to trade school or a community college program related to the electrical trade and participating in an apprenticeship through a local company working in partnership with a union. Apprenticeships can last for as many as four years, providing real-world on-the-job experience and technical training in preparation for earning a journeyman license, and eventually a master electrician/lineman license.
Some jurisdictions do not regulate linemen the same way they do electricians, in which case a license may not be required to hold a license. In these cases, employers take on apprentices and establish all the training requirements that must be met.
Apprenticeship programs are available through the Electrical Training Alliance, a partnership between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) is the largest provider of apprenticeship programs in the United States, working in partnership with local chapters and employers throughout the country.
Employers often cite a preference or requirement for linepersons who have completed an apprenticeship that is approved by the US Department of Labor, such as those offered through the Electrical Training Alliance. Completing such as apprenticeship can also make it easier to work in different jurisdictions or across state lines. Training programs that have this approval share these traits in common:
- They are designed to move apprentices from having no skills to having full entry-level proficiency
- They result in a Completion of Registered Apprenticeship Certificate
- They ensure a standardized level of minimum qualifications
- They are sponsored by individual employer associations or businesses and may also have an IBEW partnership
At the end of an apprenticeship, the IBEW trade union issues what is known as a journeyman card. You can apply for a journeyman card as a lineperson at your local IBEW chapter once you have 3.5 years of experience in the field. To earn the card you must pass the IBEW’s journeyman exam.
Salaries for Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers
Many professionals in this trade have made their career choice partly based on the high salaries linemen earn. The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that nationally, the average salary for electrical power line installers and repairers was $65,650 in 2015, while the top ten percent earned $95,990. If the past is an indication of the future then we can also expect this number to increase. Since 2011 the national average salary for power line installers and repairers has increased by nearly 10 percent.
According to the Department of Labor the five-best states to work as an electrical power line installer and repairer (based on average salary) in 2015 were:
- Average – $83,340
- Top ten percent – $99,020
- Average – $85,040
- Top ten percent – $98,970
- Average – $86,960
- Top ten percent – $105,700
- Average – $87,240
- Top ten percent – $109,990
- Average – $96,070
- Top ten percent – $123,800
Eight of the top-10 cities offering the highest average salaries were in California, with Sacramento offering the highest average salary of all metro areas in the nation at $103,380.
Consider the following salary examples to get an idea of what the job market has to offer. These are sourced in July 2016, and are solely examples that represent the types of starting salaries available to properly credentialed electrical power line installers and repairers. These are provided for illustrative purposes only and are not meant to represent job offers or provide an assurance of employment or level of pay:
- Experienced lineman with North Houston Pole and Line in Texas: $68,640 – $81,120
- Apprentice lineman with Entergy in Dayton, Texas: $52,062
- Lineman in training with Southern Company in Atlanta, Georgia: $57,828
- Electric line technician with the Town of Apex in North Carolina: $36,421 – $57,054
- High voltage electrician with the Department of the Army in Fort Campbell, Kentucky: $47,674 – $55,640
- Electric distribution mechanic with the City of Los Angeles: $73,205 – $120,707
Careers Opportunities and Options for Outside Linemen
Over the past five years the number of electrical power line installers and repairers has grown by nearly 10 percent. The major employment industries for line workers are:
- Electric power generation, transmission, and distribution
- Utility system construction
- Local government agencies
- Building equipment contractors
- Natural gas distribution
The nation’s largest job markets for lineman are home to some well-known employers:
- North Houston Pole Line
- Great Southwestern Construction Inc
- Saber Power Services
- TradeStar Inc
San Jose, California
- Golden State Utility Company
- IES Communications
- Cupertino Electric, Inc
- Pacific Gas and Electric
- Pike Electric, Inc
- NextEra Energy, Inc
- Florida Power and Light
- Decisive Communications, Inc
- Cenergy Partners
Charlotte, North Carolina
- Pike Electric, Inc
- Utility Lines Construction Services, Inc
- IES Communications
- Globe Communications
- TelForce Group
- Pauley Construction
- Denver Transit Operators
- Xcel Energy
- Contract Engineering Services, Inc