The Electrical Worker online
November 2013

Apprenticeship 2.0
Games and Social Media Transform
Apprentice Training

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Online Learning to Revolutionize Linemen Training

A bad storm whips through the Deep South, knocking out power for tens of thousands. It's all hands on deck for the utility, as hundreds of linemen from the Midwest, both coasts and Canada converge on the disaster zone to get the power back on.

The problem: Most of the out-of-area linemen have never seen the kind of transformers or primary voltages used by the local utility, which could mean hours of costly delay.

One of the linemen asks an apprentice helper to pull out a laptop. The junior worker then logs onto the National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee's outside line online learning program, where he finds a live simulator that diagrams the transformer bank exactly. An emergency repair that might have taken an hour or more can now be done in minutes.

This scenario could be soon be a reality in the utility industry.

The National Utility Industry Training Fund — a national joint effort between four major utilities and the IBEW to boost training and recruitment — is promoting the NJATC's outside line learning program for use by utilities across the U.S.

Like the NJTAC's new inside curriculum (see Apprenticeship 2.0: Games and Social Media Transform Apprentice Training), the outside line program uses online technology that lets students learn through computer-based teaching tools like video and realistic scenario software — including showing sparks when a transformer bank is connected improperly.

"The outside program developed by the NJATC far exceeds any of the training materials used by the utilities," says Utility Department Director Jim Hunter. "This will bring linemen training into the 21st century."

Despite the growing skilled utility worker shortage, utilities still lack a standardized industry-wide curriculum, making training more expensive by forcing instructors to rely on old material using outmoded technology.

"It's hard to get the companies together at one table to agree on a national training standard," Hunter said. But the NJATC's outside program, which covers nearly every aspect of the line trade, could fill that gap.

"Training is a very expensive thing," says NUITF Director Bill Neiles. "But it doesn't have to be. This application is much cheaper and easier but more effective than anything else out there."

The IBEW Media Department produced a DVD featuring highlights from the program this fall. It was mailed out to every business manager who represents utility workers with the hope that they will share it with the right people at their local company.

Hunter said he will also be discussing the program with attendees at this year's Center for Energy Workforce Development conference in early November, which brings together representatives from the nation's leading energy companies.

For younger workers thinking about entering the industry, the program's use of high-tech computer simulations appeals to those raised on video games. And for experienced linemen and outside line workers who are on the road a lot, the emphasis on online learning is ideal for those looking to brush up on their skills.

The NJATC is offering the program at a low cost to utilities — but the long term payoffs for signatory line contractors could be substantial, said Hunter.

"The utilities will see the rigorous training the IBEW outside line workers go through and resources they have available," he said. "It will go a long way in winning over companies to going with the IBEW for their contracting needs."

Read more: Games and Social Media Transform Apprentice Training Read NJATC



With the NJATC's online outside learning program, linemen can access important training information on transformer repair anywhere.