Alex Gedrimas of Martin County has always wanted to be a lineman. When his mother saw information about the Martin Community College line technician program on Facebook, he jumped at the chance to get the training needed for the field. Gedrimas took the semester-long line technician program at Martin Community College in 2020 with the inaugural class of 14 students. The program provided him a direct path to employment with Lee Electrical, a contractor with Dominion Energy, which supplies energy in parts of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
“I always thought that being a lineman would be a dream,” said Gedrimas. “I absolutely love my job. We typically work 40 hours a week with Mondays off, unless we get called to an emergency.”
Gedrimas graduated from the program in December. In February, during a big ice storm, he was sent to Virginia to help more than 130,000 Dominion Energy customers get their power back on.
“It was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Gedrimas. “We worked 105 hours in one week. It was a thrill to me. People would come out and cheer us on when the power came back on. It made all of us feel really good.”
While Gedrimas has been working for a couple of months now, he will be in training for the next five years.
Upon successful completion of the community college’s Apprentice Line Technician Academy, students become candidates for employment among municipal, rural, and commercial electrical providers. Beginning wages for apprentice-line technicians in eastern NC average approximately $17 per hour, with seasoned veterans reaching an average of $50 per hour.
“We are giving them foundational skills,” said Nathan Mizell Jr., Associate Vice President of Continuing Education at Martin Community College. “This program helps them get the job and start in the business. Then companies will put them through a five-year training program. Once they become a Class 1 lineman, they can do everything on a crew and run a crew.”
In August 2020, the Golden LEAF Foundation Board of Directors provided $111,454.80 in funding for the Apprentice Line Technician Academy at Martin Community College. The program has had one cohort of 14 students complete the course and now is about two-thirds of the way through a second cohort of five students. To date, six program completers have obtained jobs in the field.
“Golden LEAF funds were a real catalyst in helping us get the program off the ground,” said Mizell. “The biggest portion of the funds were used in purchasing the training gear for the students. Without that equipment, the students incur a cost of over $2,000 a piece to do the training.”
There is a need for up to 450 linemen in northeastern North Carolina over the next five years.
“We were looking at workforce needs in the Northeast part of the state,” said Mizell. “Dominion Power, Roanoke Electric, and Edgecombe-Martin County Electric Membership Service in the northeast were looking for workers, and there was nowhere to get training. We had a conversation with the three companies about what their needs were and what the college could do to meet those needs for the workforce. These companies were included in the process to develop the curriculum to make sure that the students that we were training had the fundamental skills that they were looking for in potential employees.”
Mizell says the program consists of a team of instructors with years of experience in the field.
“Our three instructors have 30 plus years in the field,” said Mizell. “Two of the instructors have worked much of their time in the field with overhead work, while one instructor has underground work experience. That way your students can learn from real people and teach them through real experiences.”
Gedrimas was grateful to be a part of the first cohort of line technician training.
“Because it was all new to me, it didn’t all come together during training,” said Gedrimas. “Now, when I see it in the field, I understand what the instructors were preparing us for. The instructors are doing a great job. They can show you what to do, but at the end of the day, it is up to us to want to learn.”
College officials are hopeful that as the program grows, the needs in the region for skilled linemen will be filled by Martin Community College graduates.