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SVEC graduates first five students from apprentice program

By Gabrielle Stevenson

Flipping a light switch, charging a phone, heating an oven - these are all things most people never give a second thought to until their power goes out. When it does, power cooperatives and companies send out crews of well-trained journeyman linemen to restore power and keep electricity flowing through the lines. The job can be a very dangerous one at times and requires a great level of knowledge and skill to execute safely. The next time stormy weather hits in Hamilton, Suwannee, Columbia or Lafayette Counties, one of five new journeyman lineman at Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC) could be the individual responsible for restoring your power, allowing you to flip the switches and use the devices we all rely on for everyday life.

SVEC employees and their families gathered to celebrate the graduation of five new journeyman lineman. -SVT Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson

In 2014, SVEC adopted the Northwest Lineman College apprenticeship program and enrolled their first students on April 28, 2014. Last week, SVEC held a graduation ceremony and celebration for five men that are the first to successfully complete the apprenticeship since it’s adoption at SVEC.

Tray Boatright receiving certificate.

This was no small task to complete as employees finishing SVEC’s apprentice program have to obtain a minimum of 576 hours of academic schooling and a minimum of 8,000 hours of on the job training. All five students not only completed all their exams with high scores, but worked to complete the apprenticeship in three years instead of four. The graduates are Tray Boatright, Jared Clark, Philip King, Ryan Ratliff, and Evan Skeen.

CEO of SVEC Michael McWaters spoke at the ceremony and said when he became CEO in 2014, he sat down with every employee at that time to discuss cooperative improvements and hear their input.

Jared Clark receiving certificate.

McWaters said, “A lot of things came out of those meetings. We needed an apprentice program, we needed training, we needed a path forward for our young employees to be linemen without having to wait 10, 15 or 20 years before a spot opened up for them. We needed a low profile training facility. Most of you don’t know what that is, but we needed something that was built low to the ground so when we were teaching people, we could stand around and talk about it rather than screaming at people up 40 or 50 feet in the air. Tonight is the result of those conversations.”

Philip King receiving certificate.

McWaters also stated the apprentice program allows the students the opportunity to move at their own pace and work their way to journeyman linemen quickly or slowly. McWaters congratulated the graduates and commented on their accomplishment, “This curriculum, a lot of you may not realize how in depth it is. It’s a lot of time and effort. I hope you understand the magnitude of what they’ve done. That’s why we want to celebrate this, because it really is a big deal.”

Mark Mosley, SVEC Director of Safety, also spoke and went through a powerpoint explaining what kind of work the students do to earn the status of a journeyman lineman.

Ryan Ratliff receiving certificate.

Mosley worked closely with the students throughout their training and expressed his congratulations, making a final comment on the importance of safety in this field of work “Everyday is a good day to work safe. We stress that over and over. Every time they turn around, we try to have something to do with safety, keeping it in their minds and bringing it to their attention. They take a lot of tests and they’ve all done so well. They have good skill and good training. They’ve done a great job.”

Also in attendance for the ceremony was Aaron Howell, president of Northwest Lineman College. A lineman himself, he wrote much of the college’s curriculum, along with others, and said it is not an easy one to complete.

Evan Skeen receiving certificate.

“It’s very significant what these individuals have accomplished,” said Howell.

After finishing his speech, Howell presented the new graduates with their certificates of completion. Each enclosed a gold coin and an oath of excellence, officially making them journeyman lineman, ready to service the Suwannee Valley area in keeping the lights on.