Western Colorado Community College unveiled a new lineworker training facility at a grand opening event in Grand Junction.
“Today’s milestone is an important one for Colorado rural electric cooperatives, utilities and municipalities that need a skilled workforce that can keep our lights on and our quality of life high,” said Tom Walch, chief executive officer of Grand Valley Power.
Walch was among the participants at the event that included leaders from the college and Colorado Mesa University as well as lineworker instructors and students.
“The fact that so many companies and officials attended the opening is a testament to the market for lineworkers and women and men who specialize in the field of electric distribution,” said CMU President Tim Foster. “A stable electric grid is at the heart of why this program exists, and today the community was able to see why this program is becoming one of the best in the nation.”
The electric lineworker program trains students to become apprentice electric linemen. Students learn the basics of electricity, the fundamentals of electric line work and transformer connections and underground repair and installation. The program operates within an indoor and outdoor training facility with classrooms on site.
The new facility, located on the corner of 29 and D 1/2 roads, provides more space for students as well as equipment and vehicles. The facility includes larger classrooms as well as updated audio visual and instructional technology.
The upgrades allow students to learn in a more efficient and effective setting. They also will be challenged to apply the knowledge they learn in the classroom at the outdoor space on site. In the outdoor space, students learn how to operate bucket and digger-derrick vehicles and climb industry height poles.
WCCC officials said about 60 percent of lineworkers will retire in coming years. This demographic transition poses challenges for the industry, but offers an opportunity for the college program.
Thomas Potter, a lineworker program technical instructor, said WCCC attracts students from as far away as New York because of the looming shortage of workers as well as the industry support that allows the program to grow. “We have technical, financial and in-kind support from most of the area’s rural electric cooperatives and utilities as well as contractors, equipment providers and partners,” Potter said. “This facility is like other WCCC and CMU growth areas where our team responds quickly and nimbly to the needs of the community.”
The Mesa County Federal Lease District awarded a $300,000 grant for the facility, money that was combined with financial support from WCCC and CMU.