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Q&A with City Light’s Pre-Apprentice Lineworkers

In the spirit of celebrating Lineworker Appreciation Day, it’s important to recognize the different steps to becoming a lineworker. And there is no better group to share the start of that journey than City Light’s pre-apprentice lineworkers.

The Seattle City Light Pre-Apprenticeship (PAL) Program designates 1,040 hours of training that are specifically designed to teach the fundamental knowledge needed to perform linework, including crew assistance, equipment preparation and direct work with line crews. Upon successful completion of the PAL Program, participants will be hired as lineworker apprentices and begin the 3 ½ year/7,000-hour apprenticeship program.

A fiercely competitive process with more than 500 applicants and multiple levels of testing/interviewing, City Light has five PALs—four men, one woman— in its current program. The group began their pre-apprentice work in February and is comprised of Washington natives from Sedro-Woolley, Seattle, Port Townsend and Puyallup with one member from Savannah, Georgia. The educational background is a mix of AA and BA degrees, trade school and service in the United States Marine Corps.

L-R: Na’Quelle Davis, Zach Lynd, Ryan Schoeneman, Isaac Tenney, Alex Wiley

What are you most excited or passionate about with the PAL program? What motivates you?

Isaac Tenney: “I’m just happy to be outside. I wouldn’t do well behind a desk. The fact that I get to do something I enjoy all day…in the rain or the sun…I just enjoy the outdoors.”

Zach Lynd: “What motivates me the most is my family. To be able to have a career where I’m able to support them and one that I enjoy as well. Being outside and working with brothers and sisters who love the same thing you do is motivating.”

Ryan Shoeneman: “I like the mental and physical challenges of this job. There’s something new every day. No job is the same which challenges me a lot. Like the rest of my brothers and sisters, I love being outside. This is something that I’ve wanted a long time and I’m excited to get to do what I do.”

Na’Quelle Davis: “One thing that motivates me is seeing how things work behind-the-scenes. You pass by powerlines every day, but you don’t know what’s going on and how it works. I like learning how powerlines operate—to work on them and see how everything is put together. I get to go home knowing that ‘Hey, I did something today.’ I can go back and look at something I did.”

Alex Wiley: “I like working outdoors. I like a job that’s physically demanding. I grew up playing team sports so I like the aspect of working toward a common goal with a group of people. I like being able to provide for my family. I like the challenge of learning new things. I worked in a different career for 13 or 14 years before and I feel like I learned all there is to know about that so coming into this situation and learning something completely new is challenging and exciting.”

How did you end up in this role? Was it something you always wanted to do? Or did something or someone inspire you to pursue this line of work?

IT: “I’ve wanted to work for Seattle City Light since high school. My brother works for City Light, and I thought about applying right after graduation, but I wanted to serve my country. So, I joined the Marine Corps first. Even throughout my enlistment, I was always looking forward to applying to City Light and now I’m fortunate to be here. My brother is an inspiration for me wanting to work here.”

ZL: “My uncle pushed me in this direction. About four years ago, I was thinking about getting out of the Marine Corps and had no thought of what to do. He mentioned this trade to me and ever since, I’ve been running toward it—doing research on schools and anything else that could help me progress in this field. Shortly after I got out of the Marine Corps, I went straight to Northwest Lineman College and went through their program which was very beneficial in my mind. They teach the fundamentals of climbing and electricity which gives an advantage to those wanting to enter this career field.”

RS: “I started in 2008 as a utility construction worker apprentice with Seattle City Light. I hadn’t worked around a lot of overhead crews—we were in a separate unit. It wasn’t until I was fortunate to go to Newhalem for a job with some of the linemen and got to see what they do, that I was around the crews. Although, it was a unique job and a unique situation, after that I didn’t want to be a laborer anymore—I wanted to be a lineman. That was what inspired me. Four and half years later, here I am.”

ND: “Growing up, I didn’t specifically want to be a lineworker, but I grew up around a lot of longshoremen. So, I wanted to do something where I worked with my hands, but, of course, being a woman everyone was like ‘No, you should try and do something different. Don’t work with your hands necessarily.’ When I got out of college I thought ‘Well, ok. I tried that, but let me go ahead and try this.’ I ending up finding a lineworker job posting right when I moved to Seattle, but they weren’t hiring yet. So as soon as it popped up again, I jumped right on it. For me, it was something new to work with. A very different kind of talent—it’s a mental and a physical challenge which I like.”

What have you learned in this role from the people around you? From your peers? The crews? Your instructors?

IT: “I went to Northwest Lineman College and thought that I knew how to climb well. Then I came here and, well, it’s tough. I thought I knew certain skills, but I realized I’m missing some fundamentals. Since getting to climb school, I’ve improved a lot—more than I expected. Every day on the crews, I learn something new that I can take with me.”

ZL: “Every day at work is a complete learning curve. We’re constantly receiving new information…we try to adapt to it and run with it. There’s so much to take in all at once. We’re all starting off at the bottom and working our way up. I think it’s important to know your place and be comfortable in what you know in that you don’t do something that you’re not capable of yet. It’s important to ask lots of questions and try to get as much information that you can from those above you have that knowledge.”

AW: “For me, there are two things. Number one is safety. It’s very important to come out here and work hard, but also to go home to your family at night. No question is dumb question. If you don’t realize or understand why something is the way it is, ask questions. Teamwork would be number two. You rely on your brothers and sisters out here to succeed. It’s very important to have each other’s back and watch out for one another.”

Why is this job—this position—important to you? What are you most looking forward to in this role?

IT: “I want to top out. I want to be a journeyman. That’s my goal. I’d be happy to do it through Seattle City Light. So, yeah, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting my J-card.”

RS: “I’m looking forward to learning more and topping out. Being able to be a safe and efficient lineman in this trade. Just try my hardest to carry on a tradition of a lot of great people that have worked here and paved the way for us. Hopefully, I can live up to those standards and be a great journeyman.”

ND: “The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is being able to look back 30-40 years from now and say ‘I know this body of work so well.’ That I can say that I’ve been doing this for so long. The entire time we’ve been meeting people who have been here 20, 30, 40 years. I want to know something that well.”

AW: “I’m looking forward to obviously learning all that I can and being the best lineworker that I can, but also looking forward to working with a group of people and developing relationships that I’m going to have far beyond my years here at the company.”

Any advice you’d like to share for those looking to follow this career path?

IT: “Work hard if you’re trying to get on. Getting a commercial driver’s license beforehand helps. Just work hard and be humble.”

ZL: “Trade school. Any climbing school you can get into, do that. It’s worth the money. It’s expensive up front, but it pays out in the long run. Apply everywhere. Take any job—even if it’s a janitor position within an electric company. If that’s what’s available, take the job and build your way up through the company to the position that you want. Put yourself out there and see what’s offered back.”

Learn more about City Light’s Pre-Apprenticeship Program here.