As Appalachian Power takes on major projects, local program trains new power line workers

Wytheville Community College launches a new power line worker trainig program

By Erin Brookshier - Virginia Today Reporter

WYTHE COUNTY - Appalachian Power is currently working on one of the biggest projects in decades as workers prepare to upgrade the aging infrastructure in the Roanoke and New River Valleys. This is just one of several major projects taking place currently across southwest Virginia.

Work is also underway on the substation project near Interstate 81 in Cloverdale. It's a $235 million project set to be completed later this year. People in Roanoke and Lynchburg have also seen crews working underground, replacing conductors, transformers and vaults as part of a $20 million project to increase reliability for major businesses and office districts.

Projects like these are what students at Wytheville Community College are preparing for, as part of a newly created power line training program. Classes started at the beginning of May and are expected to last 14 weeks.

Mike Morrison, the class instructor, says about 50 percent of current power line workers are expected to retire in the next five years, which is why he helped to create the training program.

"Not a lot of people are getting into this line of work because it is hard work." says Morrison. "It's physical labor and it's very demanding on you and demanding on your family. But the need is more now than its ever been, because electricity is not a luxury, it's a necessity."

The first class to go through this student is made up of seven students, ranging from 20-years-old to their mid-50s.

Jimmy Powers signed up for the class after he was laid off from a job he had worked for over 25 years. He says he applied for a handful of various jobs before finding and signing up for this course.

"It's good to have the skills that we're going to be leaving here with," he says. "We can take them to any other job. I applied to other jobs {before} and didn't get any response. It's good to come to this class, have companies come in and want the skills that we're learning here."

In the past few weeks, three separate recruiters have already been in to talk to the students. When they graduate later this summer-- ever student is expected to have a job making between $14 to $21 an hour.

Copyright 2017 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.