OPALCO hires 3 local apprentices: The future is here

OPALCO has hired three new linemen apprentices – one for each of the crews on Lopez, Orcas, and San Juan Island. These local linemen will keep the lights on for the next generation of islanders.

OPALCO apprentices at the 2019 Annual meeting aboard the Tillikum ferry.

Left to right: Ken Bair of Lopez Island, Kyle Hoffman of Orcas Island, and Rio Black of San Juan Island

“With some of our linecrew hitting the 25-, 30- and even 40-year mark in their careers with the Co-op, we have to plan for future,” says General Manager, Foster Hildreth. “These guys are the key to the work we do at OPALCO.”

Becoming a Journeyman Lineworker is no small task. The apprenticeship is a structured four-year program that includes bi-monthly trips to the mainland, testing every six months, after-hour studying and boot-camp style training courses at a specialized camp in Oregon. Journeymen Lineworkers must be prepared to work outside in all weather conditions, keep themselves safe in a high-voltage environment and make the commitment to stay focused on this intensive program over four years, while working.

During the training period, apprentices must work full time (8000 hours) and advance through the seven steps of the program. Apprentices install, maintain and repair power lines, identify defective equipment, climb poles and work long hours to restore power. They must follow the strict set of safety standards and procedures. They will also master a wide variety of skills including electrical work, operating heavy machinery, rigging, hand tools and more.

Jordan Ross of San Juan Island, (pictured left) who is completing his apprenticeship with the San Juan crew this month, graduated from Friday Harbor High and came back to the island in 2015. Jordan describes the apprenticeship as, “a challenging but extremely rewarding experience – one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.” Jordan is excited to start building his house once he becomes a full-fledged Journeyman Lineman.

Most apprentices spend the four years on call and working as many late night outage calls as they can. Some of the most extensive learning happens when the crew rallies together to solve the mystery of an unplanned power outage. The apprentices work closely with journeymen linemen for many long, cold hours gaining knowledge and the satisfaction of getting the power on.

Apprentices can choose to participate in other internships to learn things their utility doesn’t have. During his second year as an apprentice, Jordan completed a two-week internship with BPA to learn about high-voltage overhead transmission lines.

OPALCO’s three new apprentices, who are all from the islands, were hired through a highly competitive process. If possible, OPALCO prefers to hire from a local pool of applicants to provide living wage work to our own community members. This is one of the critical ways the Co-op supports its membership.

Kyle Hofmann graduated from Orcas Christian School and was living in Tacoma with his wife and daughter (18 months). He was selling insurance and fishing commercially for the company owned by his parents (Orcas Island residents). Kyle and his wife were more than ready to move back to Orcas. “I loved growing up here and want to give that to my daughter,” Kyle says.

Rio Black, a recent graduate of Friday Harbor High, was living in Arizona making minimum wage in a welding apprenticeship. Rio didn’t see himself continuing with welding and is much happier with the OPALCO apprenticeship. “This is my home and I’m glad to be able find a good, solid job I can rely on for well into my future,” says Rio.

Ken Bair from Lopez Island states, “I like being involved in my community and helping people so the OPALCO job was a perfect fit for me.” He grew up on Lopez and graduated from Spring Street International School. He’s been a volunteer firefighter for 14 years and also helps each year with the fireworks. Ken lives with his wife and 4-year old son.

“We lucked out!” says Hildreth, “These apprentices are top notch, island-grown kids and now they are the future of OPALCO. We feel very fortunate to have such a stellar team.” This cohort of apprentices will be providing power for many years to come on the islands (one of the apprentices could make it all the way to 2062).

Orcas Power & Light Cooperative (OPALCO) is our member-owned cooperative electric utility, serving more than 11,400 members on 20 islands in San Juan County. OPALCO provides electricity that is 97% greenhouse-gas free and is generated predominantly by hydroelectric plants. OPALCO was founded in 1937. Follow OPALCO @OrcasPower on Facebook and Twitter.

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