How Linework Training Can Start an Amazing Career
As a troubled youth who joined the Army Reserves, Don Leiching wasn’t really thinking about his future career choices. It just sort of happened that he received training as a lineman, a profession built around maintaining and repairing electrical lines.
He didn’t realize that he’d spend the next 30 years working dozens of feet in the air. The lineman career and its union benefits have helped him and his wife successfully start their family, put their children through college, move around the country, and build lifelong friendships while providing a valuable service to the community.
"Young people are looking for a lifelong career and are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the options they have,” Don says. “Today’s society does not value the contribution and importance of the 'blue collar' trades the way it used to. I want to help change that."
Getting Started as a Lineworker
“When I was a teenager, I was always a more hands-on, physical type of person,” he says. “I didn’t have many things that I was considering. I wasn’t looking at my future path… I was doing a lot of construction work throughout high school, got my GED, and joined the Army. I took a test and fortunately, training to be a lineman was something I qualified for”
Don received some lineworker training in the Army Reserves and had a basic understanding of what the job was. He was hooked and soon moved to Maryland to begin an apprenticeship.
Choosing where to work
“After four years of successful completion of a paid apprenticeship, I became a journeyman lineman,” says Don. “Nanci [Don's wife] was pregnant, and we were able to move to Seattle to start our family because the baseline salary was higher on the west coast.”
“Being a lineworker gives you a very comfortable living if you don’t mind working HARD,” says Donald. “After Seattle, my family and I had numerous opportunities to travel across the country with my employment at various power companies because there’s such a demand for lineworkers everywhere. It’s great pay; the benefits are fantastic. I was able to support my family very comfortably as well as put myself and two of my children through college. ”
Forming bonds with co-workers and communities
One of the best parts of the job is the camaraderie.
“You form a very strong bond with the people you work with, both at work and outside of work,” he says. “There’s a real kinship between the people out in the field. Everyone looks out for each other, especially in emergency situations."
Don’s first big trial under fire as a lineworker was Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
“When storms come around, I personally think that’s the best time to be a lineman,” says Don. “You’re out there helping people to turn the lights back on and that is what you do. It gives you a real sense of inner pride. People are extremely appreciative; you’re away from your family, you’re not eating great food, you might be sleeping in tents, but you’re just persevering to get the lights back on.”
On average, there are two to three storms a year where lineworkers from across the country are called to help. A shortage of qualified workers is what makes schools like L.I.N.E. so essential.
“We’ve had three storms this year where it was multiple 16-hour days with tens of thousands of people out of power,” he says. “We’ve sent some people down to Florida this year, but we’ve also been really busy here in the north east.”
How lineworking has changed
Since Don started his career, two main things have changed: it's gotten safer and it's gotten easier.
Bucket trucks and other powered equipment have made the job easier and less physically demanding.
“Safety is of the utmost importance; industry safety practices have improved tremendously in the last 100 years,” Don says. “The mortality rate was once 50%. Half of them died on the job. But now, due to those safety standards, the risks of the job have gone down considerably. It’s a matter of forming good habits from the beginning. If you do, you’re going to do well.”
A lineworking school in Saugerties
After a long and successful career in both linework and management (and even competing in the Lineman’s Rodeo in Kansas City), Don is ready to help the next generation of lineworkers get started, too.