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Martinsburg college to train power line workers

April 03, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Working on power lines 20 or more feet off the ground in less than ideal weather conditions isn't a job for everyone.

Even longtime Allegheny Power lead lineman Benjamin Saylor admitted being on a 95-foot pole in Hagerstown one time when the wind "wiggled" wasn't the most comforting experience in his near 20 years of aerial work for the utility company.

"I didn't think too much of that," recalled Saylor, who as a leading officer of the Utility Workers Union of America Local 102 joined company officials Wednesday to celebrate the launch of a work-force training partnership with Blue Ridge Community and Technical College.

Set to launch in July with the teaching of the gateway course, "Intro to Line Worker," the college's new Electric Distribution Technology program will be offered at the former World Kitchen/Corning Glass Works facility at 5550 Winchester Ave., now known as Berkeley Business Park.

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On Wednesday, Blue Ridge CTC president Peter Checkovich and Ralph Shockey of The Shockey Companies based in Winchester, Va., signed a 10-year lease agreement for the school's new technology center, which will house a number of work-force training programs.

"This is putting the 'technical' in Blue Ridge Community and Technical College," Checkovich said.

The leasing of 23,161 square feet of space from for classrooms and indoor and outdoor utility "pole park" training areas will cost the school about $1.5 million, according to the agreement.

The deal also affords the school an exclusive opportunity to lease an additional 16,700 square feet of space.

"We're going to be writing more grants and developing more programs because I want that space," said Daniel E. Steerman, the college's newly hired work-force development technical program coordinator told the college's governing board.

After touring the new technology center still under construction, Allegheny Power spokesman Allen Staggers said he could not specify the company's financial commitment to the electric distribution program, but he noted the school was being provided with equipment and guidance on coursework, and that employees would be part of an advisory board. Checkovich said the state provided the school with about $500,000 for the partnership with Allegheny Power.

"This is the culmination of about year's worth of work," Checkovich told the college's governing board, which held its regular meeting at the facility.

"This will give us qualified candidates for jobs that we need filled both now and in the future in Martinsburg and throughout the region," Staggers said.

"It's more of a challenge than it used to be to get (qualified) applicants," added Staggers, who noted the company's current challenge of replacing an aging work force.

Staggers said starting annual salaries for line workers who complete the school's new two-year program would average about $37,000, plus benefits.

Not including overtime, a "fully qualified" lineman who can obtain that status after five years, is paid about $60,000, Staggers said.

"Some of our linemen make six figures (with overtime)," Staggers said. "But they work hard."

Saylor said he was always interested in the electrical trade and loves the outdoors, no matter the weather.

"When the weather's bad, we're working," Saylor said.

Though the work is somewhat dangerous, Saylor said job security is all but guaranteed.

"It's unheard of for layoffs in this industry," Saylor said.

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