Do you prefer hands-on learning to sitting in a classroom? Do you have strong problem-solving skills and enjoy tackling unique challenges?
Are you considering trade school or an apprenticeship as an alternative to a four-year degree?
For the most part, we at Transizion focus on helping people get into the college of their dreams But if a bachelor’s degree isn’t the right path for you, we’re still here to help with valuable tips, resources, and guidance. That’s why in this series of articles, we’re doing a deep dive into a wide range of professions.
In this post, we’ll focus on how to become an electrical lineman. Read on to learn about working conditions, education, job outlook, salary, and overall job satisfaction.
What Do Electrical Linemen Do?
When you watch your favorite Netflix show, complete an assignment on your laptop, or charge your phone, you’re using electricity–and it’s an electrical lineman’s job to keep that electricity flowing.
Electrical linemen install and repair electrical power lines and telecommunications cables, both aerial and underground. This means climbing poles or using truck-mounted buckets, stringing the lines between the poles, and inspecting and testing power lines and related equipment. Linemen must follow safety regulations, and some lead teams and develop work plans and projects.
Electrical linemen work a physically demanding job in all kinds of weather conditions.They work outside in extreme heat, cold, and sometimes in the dark. When natural disasters like hurricanes or blizzards damage the power lines, electrical linemen work in hazardous conditions to restore electricity.
They also spend a lot of time driving from one job to another, and they are expected to work at great heights. Hours are often long and unpredictable. While most electrical linemen work regular full-time hours, they are also typically expected to be on call to restore power when needed (including weekends, evenings, and sometimes holidays).
So, how do you know if becoming an electrical lineman is the right career move for you?
Important qualities for an electrical lineman to have include:
- Aptitude for hands-on learning
- Physical and mental strength
- Time management
- Strong analytical and problem-solving skills
- Technical knowledge
- Comfortable with heights
Additionally, electrical linemen should be passionate about their work. Due to the long, unpredictable hours and inherent danger, it’s important for linemen to be “all in” in their careers. If you’re not fully invested in the job, mistakes are more likely to occur. And in this line of work, mistakes can put you and your crew at risk.
How to Become an Electrical Lineman
Job requirements for electrical linemen may vary by state and by the company you eventually work for. In general, the steps to becoming an electrical lineman include:
- Earning your high school diploma or GED
- Attending a trade school (optional)
- Completing an apprenticeship program
- Earning extra certifications (optional)
After completing these steps, you’re eligible to become a lineworker. Some states may also require you to obtain a state license.
Trade school is not required to become an electrical lineman, but some experts recommend attending trade school to learn essential skills and knowledge to use during your lineworker apprenticeship.
Sometimes called a “pre-apprenticeship,” lineworker trade school can take anywhere from two months to a year to complete, so costs vary widely. If that’s too much of a time commitment (or financial commitment), you can jump straight to seeking an apprenticeship after graduating from high school or earning your GED.
But if you’re interested in starting with a pre-apprenticeship, here are some schools that offer programs for aspiring electrical linemen.
School, Location, Tuition
- Northwest Lineman College, Locations in California, Idaho, Florida, and Texas: $17,000
- Forsyth Tech Community College, Winston-Salem, North Carolina: $276
- North Georgia Technical College, Clarkesville, Georgia: $400
- St. Petersburg College, St. Petersburg, Florida: $7,500
- Western Texas College, Snyder, Texas: $2,655
- Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Perkinston, Mississippi: Tuition-free
- Lansing Community College, Lansing, Michigan: $12,000
- Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Wadena, Minnesota: $720
- Richmond Community College, Richmond, Virginia: $980
- Western Colorado Community College, Grand Junction, Colorado: $8,852
Schools with more expensive tuition have longer programs, like Lansing Community College’s selective 13-month lineworker program. More affordable tuition indicates a shorter program, like Forsyth Tech Community College’s 11-week “lineworker bootcamp.” And at schools like Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, partnerships with state or local power companies allow for no cost programs.
Research offerings in your area for a program that fits your budget and the amount of time you’d like to invest. And remember that if none of these programs interest you, you can apply for an apprenticeship with a high school diploma or GED.
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What You’ll Learn:
If you attend a pre-apprenticeship to prepare you for life as an electrical lineman, you can expect to learn:
- The basics of electrical systems
- Climbing towers and poles
- Knot tying and rigging
- Safety protocols
- Reading voltages
- Splicing cables
- Repairing and replacing damaged equipment
- Operating vehicles and equipment (e.g., bucket trucks and digger derricks)
Aspiring electrical linemen must complete apprenticeships, unlike the internships required for many careers. Lineworker apprentices are paid an average salary of $48,171 yearly, or about $23 hourly. The bottom 10% earn around $34,000 a year, while the top 10% earn closer to $68,000.
To become a lineworker apprentice, you must:
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Hold a high school diploma or GED
- Submit an application to your local Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JATC)
Some JATCs also require a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and a grade of C or better in algebra. After applying to an apprenticeship, you will have an interview and safety orientation. Then, you’ll be paired with power company linemen and begin on-the-job training and classroom instruction.
Most apprenticeships for electrical lineman positions require 7,000 hours, which equals four years of full-time training and instruction. You’ll learn how to work safely with electricity, circuits, power lines, and other electrical equipment. After completing an apprenticeship, you’ll be qualified to work as a lineman anywhere in the United States.
Certifications and Licensure
As mentioned above, some states require a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Even if it’s not required in your state, earning a CDL can help you get a job as a full-time lineworker.
Another certification that can give your application a boost is the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) certification, which will show employers your knowledge of safety regulations for electrical work.
Some states also require you to pass a state licensing exam to work as an electrical lineman.
How Long Does It Take to Become an Electrical Lineman?
The amount of time it takes to become an electrical lineman depends on the path you take to launch your career.
If you go to trade school before completing an apprenticeship, it can take up to five years to become a full-fledged lineworker.
If you begin an apprenticeship immediately after high school, it will take about four years. However, it’s important to note that lineworker apprenticeships are paid – so you will be earning a paycheck as you progress through your apprenticeship. When you finish the apprenticeship and begin your career as a full-time lineworker, the paycheck will grow.
Career Outlook for Electrical Linemen
If you’re thinking about pursuing a future in linework, you probably want to know about the career outlook for electrical linemen.
Is it a stable, in-demand job? How much money will you earn? In this section, we’ll answer these questions – and more – to help you decide whether becoming an electrical lineman is the right path for you.
Employment of electrical linemen is expected to grow by 6% over the next 10 years, about as fast as average for all occupations. There will be about 23,500 openings in the field each year over the next decade.
Electrical linemen work for utility or energy companies, and sometimes telecommunications organizations. As electrical grid needs increase with each new housing development or business complex, and as the interstate power grid becomes more complex, more lineworkers will be needed to install and maintain power lines.
How Much Does an Electrical Lineman Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for electrical linemen is $78,310 yearly. The lowest 10% of that range earns about $46,200, while the highest 10% makes over $107,000.
During your apprenticeship, you’ll earn somewhere between $34,000 and $68,000 annually. The median salary for apprentices is $48,171. After completing the apprenticeship, average pay for first-year, full-time linemen is $52,350, with the highest 10% earning up to $85,250 or more.
Over time, you can become a foreman or general foreman and continue increasing your salary. You can also earn large bonuses for helping to restore power after natural disasters. It’s not unheard of for electrical linemen who work on storm crews to earn up to $14,000 for a week of work.
On top of a competitive salary, electrical lineman typically enjoy job benefits like:
- Signing bonus
- Relocation assistance
- Overtime pay and bonuses
- Health insurance through LineCo
- Dental and vision insurance
- Retirement savings plans
- Paid vacation time and personal leave
Of course, not all these benefits are guaranteed for every electrical lineman position. But these are some of the benefits you might receive, and you can look for positions that offer most of the benefits on this list (or at least the ones that matter the most to you). In particular, aim for a union position, which will give you access to some benefits that aren’t offered for non-union jobs.
Pros and Cons
It’s important to weigh the pros and cons for any career path you’re considering. Here are some pros and cons that aspiring electrical linemen need to know:
- Competitive pay with opportunities for bonuses and overtime
- Relatively in-demand job
- Adventurous work in the outdoors
- Traveling, experiencing new locations, and meeting new people
- Opportunity for advancement
- Rewarding feeling; being a “local hero” when power is restored
- Uncomfortable for long periods of time
- Working in poor weather conditions
- Being on call; sometimes having to work unpredictable hours far from home
Overall Job Satisfaction
Ultimately, your job satisfaction will depend on your personal qualities and preferences. For example, some people might consider a few of the “pros” listed above as “cons.” But if you enjoy hands-on work in the great outdoors, adventure, and travel, you’ll likely love working as an electrical lineman.
Additionally, many lineworkers feel a sense of pride in restoring power to people who have just experienced a natural disaster like a hurricane. And there’s excellent pay, benefits, and job stability, as well as opportunities for growth, although it can take some time to get your foot in the door.
According to PayScale, lineworkers are highly satisfied with their job overall. The job has a satisfaction rating of 4.14 out of 5.
How to Become an Electrical Lineman: An Overview
Working as an electrical lineman is a challenging and often dangerous job. But it provides you with job stability, a competitive salary, and a variety of excellent benefits. If you’re adventurous and dependable, a leader with excellent teamwork and problem-solving skills, and interested in a more hands-on career path, then it could be a great career for you.
So, if all that sounds promising, here’s how to become an electrical lineman:
- Earn your high school diploma or GED.
- Attend trade school (optional).
- Complete an apprenticeship.
- Earn extra certifications (optional).
- If required by your state, obtain state licensure.
Typically, it takes four to five years to complete the education and training necessary to become an electrical lineman. But you’ll be paid a salary during your four-year apprenticeship, which is an excellent benefit that many traditional job internships don’t offer.
If you’re still in high school, take classes related to mathematics and technology. Note that some apprenticeship programs require you to have a C in algebra for admission. If possible, talk to local lineworkers about the job or form connections with your local apprenticeship committee. You’ll learn more about the job and gain insight into whether working as an electrical lineman is truly a career you’ll love.