Climbing 40-foot electrical poles in the wind, rain, sleet and snow is an adrenaline rush, says Brett Vinns.
It’s also a fast route to an impressive salary – nearly $100,000 annually for a lineman with an associate’s degree and five years experience.
“I’ve thought about it since I was little,” said Vinns, 20, who is pursuing his degree in electrical power technology from Pratt Community College. “I figured it would be fun to go into.”
On Tuesday, Vinns and a classmate, Dalton Kincaid, demonstrated some of the exercises they’ll be doing at a new “pole farm” in Wichita.
The Westar Energy training site at Wichita Area Technical College, 301 S. Grove, features a striking collection of electrical poles of various heights. Officials on Tuesday cut the ribbon to officially launch the public-private partnership between Westar, WATC, the Wichita school district and others.
“You can’t believe how many people drive by here now and call and say, ‘What is that?’” said Sheree Utash, president of Wichita Area Technical College.
“That’s an eye-catcher, and boy is that a great thing for career and technical education for the state of Kansas.”
Mike Calvert, president of Pratt Community College, said the site will help train a new generation of Wichita linemen, a career that boasts the highest return on investment of any two- or four-year degree from a public college in Kansas.
Through Senate Bill 155, an initiative approved by the Kansas Legislature in 2012, the state also helps pay tuition for high school students enrolled in certain courses at a community or technical college, including electrical power technology.
“A power lineman can earn $99,343 annually after five years in the field,” Calvert said.
“When you look at the investment upfront of tuition, fees, books and supplies of around $9,000 … you do the math,” he said. “That’s a pretty good salary, folks.”
Of course, linemen often face grueling conditions on the job, working around high voltages at all times of the day or night, during ice storms, blizzards and floods.
Bruce Akin, senior vice president of power delivery for Westar, said Wichita-area crews are expected to travel to Texas in coming days to assist with repairs after Hurricane Harvey.
“It’s a highly skilled craft that is in demand not only at Westar, but across the country,” Akin said.
Want to become a Wichita lineman?
For more information about the electrical power technology program offered through Pratt Community College, contact Dave Campbell at 620-450-2271, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Students can start the program as early as their junior year of high school, earning high school credit while pursuing the technical degree.