|Students Mitchell Belcourt and Peter Mercer demonstrate isolating a transformer using a loadbuster tool Wednesday at Lethbridge CollegeÕs power line technician program training facility east of the city. Herald photo by Ian Martens|
The first class of students in Lethbridge College's power line technician program have been immersed in high-level learning for the past two months.
"We've been working on a lot of rigging. We've been doing a lot of practical work getting into using the truck, the RBD (radial boom derrick), it has our auger and all of our lines. We've been doing a lot of climbing," said Adam Gibson, one of the students in the class. "It's long days but it's good."
Gibson and fellow student, Brock House, are two of 11 students in the course. They both work for the city and have had their eyes fixed on working in the city's electrical department.
"I saw this as a chance to upgrade my resume so I jumped all over it," Gibson said. "It's more fun than I envisioned."
House got a leave of absence from his job in the sanitation department because he wanted to advance his skill set. But the job isn't for everyone and the program helps potential power-line technicians determine if it's the right field for them. Power line technicians need to be able to climb distribution poles that are 45 feet high and transmission poles anywhere from 70 to 90 feet or even higher. House admits he was nervous about heights before he started the program.
"Now that I've climbed up I'm not worried at all, even working on the transmission poles," House said. "I'm totally comfortable with the fault protection that we have and the heights are just a second thought now."
Paul Komaromi, technical training consultant, and John McColl, program co-ordinator, have been putting the students through their paces.
"We keep pushing them. Our standards are extremely high and they know it but they're meeting the standards," Komaromi said. "We've got some real good players there and I think they're all gung-ho."
"They're a bunch of good kids," McColl added. "Everybody is ecstatic about doing this."
Students spend about 35 per cent of their time in the classroom and the rest on their practical skills. They learn safety skills first, said Stew Purkis, electric transmission design manager with the City of Lethbridge, a partner in the program. The students have learned to dig holes and set poles, how to climb and get comfortable working on the poles to install equipment like transformers and cross-arms. They're also learning about underground power systems.
Other partners in the program, including AltaLink, Rokstad Power Corporation, MVA Consulting, Compass Rose Power Solutions, K-Line Group and HD Supply Calgary, have supplied practice transmission and distribution lines for the students to work on. Near the end of the program the students will take down the lines they've built so they learn to do salvage work on a power line. On top of everything else, power-line technicians work in all kinds of conditions at any time of the day or night.
"From day one they learn they're not necessarily employed in a 9-to-5 job," Purkis said.
The course is unique in Alberta and is considered a pre-employment program. Once students find an employer they can begin an apprenticeship.
"There's a real good return on investment for the students as well if a utility hires the students. Once they're done it's an excellent return on their investment," Komaromi said.
Power line technicians are needed to replace those nearing retirement and to keep up with new growth.