Business & Real Estate

SMUD to expand training center for utility workers

Apprentice lineman Darin Floyd demonstrates “sagging” an electrical power line at the SMUD Power Academy in Sacramento on Friday, Nov. 6, 2015.
Apprentice lineman Darin Floyd demonstrates “sagging” an electrical power line at the SMUD Power Academy in Sacramento on Friday, Nov. 6, 2015. rbenton@sacbee.com

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District on Friday announced plans to expand its local training center to become a regional facility that will train not only SMUD utility workers but also ultimately train hundreds more for utilities throughout the Western United States.

SMUD said its longtime Hedge Training Facility on Tokay Lane, east of downtown Sacramento, will open in early 2016 as the SMUD Power Academy. SMUD has been training employees at the Hedge site for about 50 years.

SMUD’s plans for more classrooms and expanded infrastructure at the site were announced in connection with the state Department of Industrial Relations and its Division of Apprenticeship Standards formally signing documents for a state-approved apprenticeship program between SMUD and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 in Sacramento.

Under the program, SMUD is offering seven new training programs in the occupations of line worker, cable splicer, telecom technician, substation electrician, electrical technician, meter technician and engineer designer to about 60 apprentices.

These are good-paying, career jobs. Eventually, we could be training workers from all over the country.

Mike Wirsch, SMUD’s senior director of grid assets

Officials said the SMUD Power Academy will offer opportunities to connect with prospective local employees, particularly those in disadvantaged communities. The utility also said it will coordinate learning opportunities through local colleges.

Arlen Orchard, the utility’s CEO and general manager, said SMUD plans to “work closely with other utilities, IBEW, the California Department of Industrial Relations, the Building Industry Association, and local community colleges, universities and high schools to make SMUD Power Academy the premier utility training center on the West Coast.”

The Hedge Training Facility resembles a full range of an electric utility’s infrastructure in a small space, with scores of power poles, transformers, live electricity fields and underground working spaces. Utility workers demonstrated some of their skills on Friday, including pole climbing.

A typical apprenticeship lasts four years. After that, utility workers have the opportunity to make a six-figure annual wage, according to Mike Wirsch, SMUD’s senior director of grid assets.

“These are good-paying, career jobs,” Wirsch said. “Eventually, we could be training workers from all over the country.”

Officials said the academy’s initial emphasis will be public power utilities like SMUD, which are owned by their customers. SMUD said there are about 2,000 such utilities in the nation, but most do not have the resources to offer a full range of safety/skill training to employees.

SMUD said its first offerings to outside customers in 2016 will be for various three-day classes for line workers. Training includes climbing, working with live lines, using specialized equipment, protective grounding and fault locating.

In 2017, SMUD said, it will offer state-certified line apprenticeship programs for utilities. The local utility expects about 50 students in late 2016, increasing to more than 400 by 2019.

Among those attending Friday was Rob Kerth, president of the SMUD board of directors, who said the utility’s site has long turned out “the best-trained, highly skilled workers. … They do the hard work at the worst time, in the worst weather.”

Mark Glover: 916-321-1184, @markhglover

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