Our future linemen – high school students attend NPPD’s job experience day

YORK – “This is our future workforce,” said Kim Liebig, careers outreach specialist for the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), as she watched a group of teenage boys embark on a day-long work experience camp during which they learned about the field of being electrical linemen. “What better way to show them what it is like to be a lineman, what the field is like, than a hands-on experience? We need to get more students involved in these skill areas. That’s our goal today.”

Grant Otten, media relations specialist for NPPD, agreed with Liebig’s sentiment, explaining how the teens would be seeing many different facets of a lineman’s job, while also hearing from those who do that challenging and rewarding work every day.

“This is an effort to recruit linemen, let teenagers know this career path exists and how it is a good paying, rewarding career as well,” Otten said.

Liebig said she saw another public power district hold this type of day camp for teenagers and immediately felt this was something NPPD needed to do as well.

She explained how she has connections with the Nebraska Department of Education, so in May she asked them to send out information to high schools in the state. “Really, this being the first time we have done this, I said I’d be happy if even a handful of students were interested. When we got 20 confirmations right away, I was so very excited. We will want to do this every year and maybe some other camps as well. I just think it’s great how these teenagers are seeing what linemen really do and learning about the field.”

High school students from around the state traveled to the NPPD operations and training center in York to participate in the day-long lineman camp – from Syracuse, Schuyler, Fairbury, Shelby, Syracuse, Crete, Cook, North Platte, Burwell, Kearney, Ogallala, Grand Island, Bellevue, Daykin, Weston, McCool Junction and York.

“Some of these students – who are sophomores, juniors and seniors – drove quite a distance to be here and had to get up pretty early to make that happen,” Liebig said. “So that says a lot for them and the need for these types of career experience events.”

To start the day, they were given gear, like hard hats, protective glasses and gloves. They were given a run-down of the different opportunities in this field and heard about the great rewards of selecting such a career calling.

They then broke into groups and were able to visit different areas of the NPPD training center (a state-of-the-art facility at the operations center for NPPD workers). At each station, they were able to take turns doing tasks routinely performed by linemen, including being high in the air in a bucket truck. They were able to use different tools utilized by linemen and learn about the intricacies of working with electricity – all the while in safe conditions, without any physical risks.

Students were also able to enter the very special test lab area, run by Austin Aksamit, NPPD personal protective test technician. There, Aksamit runs multiple types of rubber protective gear through extensive testing to make sure it is in perfect condition in order to protect linemen from electrocution. Last year alone, 14,000 protective equipment pieces were tested in the NPPD lab area, as they do tests for NPPD and many other power districts.

Gloves, power sticks, blankets, hoses, etc., are tested on a regular basis – while they have to be tested every six months, Aksamit said most pieces of protective equipment are tested every 30 to 60 days.

He demonstrated the intricate way in which protective pieces are inspected for damage or imperfections – which could be catastrophic if not discovered. Then, equipment is transferred into a very large machine – which Aksamit calls Bertha – where electrical current is introduced to make sure they are fully protective. The demonstrations were quite eye-opening – to see what happens when a piece of equipment is defective or damaged, as far as the dangers of electricity go. But it was also a reassuring demonstration of how seriously NPPD takes the issue of safety and protecting its workers.

The students seemed to be very engaged throughout the experience, with some of them possibly wanting to become linemen in the future.

“NPPD can’t hire everyone but if we can help them enter the field and stay in Nebraska with other power districts . . . well, that’s what we want to do,” Liebig said. “We are happy to have them here today, in this safe environment, to show them what linemen do, how crucial the next workforce is to our future and how this field could provide them with great futures at the same time.”

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