Just as the name implies the Outside Lineman's job is to build, upgrade and maintain the transmission system that bring electrical power from the generation plants to where you live. It is not just a set of lines that go from A to B but a complex system of generation plants connected to main substations for bulk transfer of electrical energy. The main substations step the voltage down and send it on to your local substation for distribution through a complex loop network that ensures if one wire goes down not all power is lost. The system is overhead and underground transmission lines but also, circuit breakers, switches, transformers etc. When you drive by your local electrical substation take a hard look at the what you see and the complexity of the system will become apparent.
Since electricity cannot be stored at the levels required for modern use it must therefore be generated as needed. This means there must be controls that monitor demand and match that with power output. These complex control systems turn on and off generation systems, switch sources and do many other complicated tasks on equipment spread across hundreds of miles. Getting it wrong means causing a major blackout, something Outside Lineman never want to see.
Lineman Apprenticeship Details
The Outside Lineman Apprenticeship is usually 3 to 4 years in length (around 7000 hours OJT). Each state that licenses this specialty has slightly different requirements but generally 7000 hours is the average. A example of a multi state program is California, Oregon and Washington which run a joint training apprenticeship program managed by Northwest Line Construction Industry.
The American Line Builders Apprenticeship Training program is another example. It involves the following states, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Washington, DC., and Maryland. this training program is a joint labor management training program between the American Line Builders (which is affiliated with the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA)) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).See this page for an explanation of how these two work together
The skills required in this specialty are just as complex as any of the other specialties but are very specific to the Electrical Transmission Grid. Technical Training is just as demanding and is a must attend during each year of the apprenticeship.
Outside Lineman Job Description
Outside Lineman overtime and call outs are common. Power lines seldom come down during a lovely summer's day so expect to be working long hours during the worst weather times of the year. Also travel is large part of the job as the system is spread over a vast area. Some programs will move you during each year of your apprenticeship in order to expose you to as much of the system as possible. After training positions for advancement will also require you move to a new city or area.
Working at heights in bucket trucks and other aerial devices will be common but you also need to be able to climb poles, work with large equipment such as digger derricks, aerial lifts, backhoes, dump trucks, tensioners, pullers and cranes. Line clearance is also a big part of the job so expect to work with any tool that cuts wood especially power saws. The list of specialized hand tools you need to master is too long to list and is unique to this industry such as hot sticks, link stick etc.
Outside Lineman is a physically demanding job and like any of the Electrician Specialties requires you exercise safe working practices at all times and you will receive extensive first aid training.