Energy Transmission and Distribution Workers
Education and Training Requirements
For entry-level positions such as lineworkers, employers generally prefer high school graduates who can demonstrate mechanical aptitude and good mathematical, verbal, and reasoning skills on tests they administer. Applicants may also need to pass physical tests of balance, coordination, and strength. In high school, take courses in electrical shop, machine shop, drafting, computer science, and applied sciences.
Utility lineworkers and cable splicers usually learn their skills in apprenticeship programs, which are administered jointly by employers and unions that organize company workers. Apprenticeships, which last up three to five years, combine on-the-job training with formal instruction in related subjects. Apprentices attend classes to learn such subjects as blueprint reading, electrical theory, transmission theory, electrical codes, and job safety practices. In many programs, apprentices supplement class work with educational videos and computer-assisted instructional materials. They also get practical experience as helpers to experienced lineworkers. They begin by doing simple tasks (such as tree trimming) and, as they learn, take on progressively more difficult work.
Load dispatchers and substation operators need a background that includes good training in sciences and mathematics, as well as years of job experience with the company. Although dispatchers and operators with only a high school diploma will be able to find positions, the best jobs will go to those with college-level training.
Some energy transmission and distribution workers earn certificates or associate's degrees in electronics or related fields from community colleges.
Other Education or Training
The American Public Power Association offers education institutes, stand-alone courses, and pre-conference seminars to help workers keep their skills up to date. Recent classes included Maintenance of High Voltage Electrical Distribution Systems and Overhead Distribution Systems. The electrical training ALLIANCE (formerly known as the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee) and state-level professional associations also provide continuing education opportunities. Contact these organizations for more information.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
Power distributors and dispatchers whose work may affect the power grid must be certified by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. The organization offers the system operator certification program, which offers specialty exams in reliability; balancing, interchange, and transmission; transmission; and balancing. The Electrical Training ALLIANCE offers several certifications, including one in solar photovoltaic installation.
Some power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must be licensed. Requirements vary by state and type of employer. Check with your state's department of licensing and professional regulation for information on requirements in your state. Nuclear power reactor operators must be licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Many power plant operator jobs require a background check and drug and alcohol screenings.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Utility lineworkers and cable splicers need to complete a three- to five-year apprenticeship to attain full professional status. Power plant operators and dispatchers need several years of on-the-job training and experience to become fully qualified. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that "many employers prefer experience in electricity generation, transmission, and distribution, or in other occupations in the utilities industry, such as line worker or helper, or laborer in a power plant."
You should be comfortable working at heights and in confined spaces. You also need to have good color vision to be able to distinguish color-coded wires and have a basic understanding of the principles of electricity. Since many positions in this field involve extensive bending, climbing, reaching, and other physical exertion, workers should be in good physical condition in order to withstand the rigors of the job. Other important traits include attention to detail, organizational skills, the ability to solve problems, and the ability to work as a member of a team and on one's own as necessary.