Janesville73°

Alliant looks to middle schools for replacement workers

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JAMES P. LEUTE
May 28, 2008
— Wisconsin’s power lines need continual replacement and maintenance, and an expanding population will require more utility lines and cables.

But the state has a shortage of trained line technicians, and when it comes to recruiting replacement workers, Alliant Energy believes the future is now.


Today’s middle school students comprise a good part of that future.


Madison-based Alliant has partnered with Franklin Middle School in Janesville in a program to get kids interested in careers as line technicians, utility workers who install, maintain and repair overhead and underground power lines and systems.


The easy part of the awareness campaign is the salary range, which currently ranges from $57,000 to $69,000 per year.


The harder part is helping middle school students understand what utilities and their workers do and convincing them that they need to start planning for such a career early, said Anne Lutz, a regional director for Alliant Energy.


That involves a variety of high school classes in math, science, reading, communications and computers. It also involves a clean driving record, a Commercial Driver’s License and passing a drug screening.


“These are high-skill, high-paying jobs, and the earlier the students start making education decisions, the better,” Lutz said. She added that about half of the state’s 1,400 or so line technicians are now eligible for retirement.


Jim Nicholson, an Alliant customer service manager based in Beloit, said this year’s program at Franklin involved about 20 students.


Nicholson and Lutz said Janesville-area students are fortunate to have Blackhawk Technical College in their backyard. The school offers a two-semester Electrical Power Distribution program that feeds employees into apprentice programs.


“For some kids, it’s not beneficial to go to college,” said Brett Berg, a technical education teacher at Franklin. “There are needs in the skilled trades area; the pay is good.


“For a lot of kids, it’s a great option.”


Kurt Krueger, a learning support teacher at Franklin, agreed that not all students will move into high school, graduate and pursue a traditional college education.


He said he hopes to work with Alliant again next year to introduce students to the world of line technicians in particular and skilled trades in general.


“We’re trying to bring a real life experience to what we’re doing in the classroom,” Krueger said. “The students get to put their critical thinking skills to use. They’ve read it in a book, now here’s how you do it.


“Alliant is helping us give them the image of being a line tech and what can happen if you’re not paying attention or you weren’t listening to what someone just told you.”



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