The job of a lineman is essential in expanding and repairing power lines and telecommunications systems. Linemen (and women) earn a good income in a field that will never face outsourcing.
The job is not right for everyone, though. Linemen must stay prepared to travel and work in stressful conditions at times. They face the risk of electrical shock, falls, and other job-related injuries.
Read on as we discuss the benefits and drawbacks of this line of work and explain how to become a lineman, including what kind of training your future employers may require.
What Are Linemen and What Do They Do?
Most linemen work for utility companies installing, maintaining, and repairing power systems. Their jobs can involve working on electrical cables or telecommunications lines above or below ground.
Companies need linemen to perform technical work such as installing switches and transformers. Linemen also perform manual labor like putting up poles and stringing cables between power poles and buildings.
All linemen must observe strict safety protocols to protect everyone on the job site from falls or contact with live wires. These electrical professionals use a variety of hand tools and power tools, plus soldering irons, electrical testing devices, and other equipment.
More experienced linemen may take on supervisory responsibilities and perform management tasks like writing up reports and coordinating with contractors on a job site. With additional education or certifications, they may oversee training, serve as site safety officers, perform project management, or even transition to the business side of the company.
Linemen with specialty training may operate machinery such as light equipment and vehicles. Others with technical expertise may become wiremen or other types of electricians.
While many linemen work for utility providers, others work for electrical contractors, telecommunication companies, and government agencies. Whoever the employer may be, linemen can generally expect to travel to a variety of job sites rather than being stuck in one place. Some linemen serve vast territories.
Essential Skills and Qualities for Being a Lineman
Some lineman skills are obvious—companies are looking for workers who are dependable, in good physical condition, and willing to take calculated physical risks. It also helps to be handy with tools, tech, and equipment. If you did well in math, science, and technology courses in high school, you might be a good candidate.
Other skills may not be apparent but can make a job candidate stand out. Linemen must pay strong attention to detail. That helps them make sense of complicated manuals and perform delicate work safely for the good of the lineman and the rest of his crew.
A lineman with some math skills is an asset since the job often involves numbers, computation, and spatial reasoning. A successful lineman might also stand out among applicants if they have training and experience with all the specialty tools, vehicles, equipment, and measurement devices that line crews use.
Don’t minimize the importance of having a good attitude and personality, either—or working well as part of a team. Professional line crews take pains to be safe, but climbing up high and working on electrical systems—or using equipment to dig down and lay telecommunications cables—exposes linemen to more hazardous conditions than an office worker.
After a hurricane or other natural disaster, linemen are some of the first to hit the scene to make sure first responders and medical workers have the power they need. The job requires a sense of adventure along with an eye for safety.
How to Become a Lineman: Training and Certifications
Most lineman positions require a high school diploma or GED. A large part of lineman training happens on the job during an apprenticeship. Local unions often oversee apprenticeships, pairing apprentices with senior linemen. Apprenticeship programs usually involve registration with the state.
There are no official linemen licenses or certifications, so senior linemen who oversee apprenticeships usually decide how long an apprenticeship will last—often three or four years. A common standard is 7,000 work hours plus some classroom time. To complete an apprenticeship, most linemen also need to demonstrate their mathematical ability by having coursework in geometry and algebra. Some trigonometry may also be helpful.
Upon the successful conclusion of the lineman apprenticeship, the apprentice graduates to the status of Journeyman Lineman and gains a new level of independence and responsibility.
Other training and qualifications
If you do not want to pursue an apprenticeship from the start, you may see whether you can enroll in a lineman program at a technical college. You will have to look at job listings to determine if a technical college program is worthwhile for the type of work you would like to pursue. A course may be able to take the place of part of the apprenticeship period.
Other prospective linemen receive electrical systems training in the military. Some gain experience by working on a line crew as a groundman. As the name implies, they perform manual labor on the ground but can learn more about the type of work that linemen do.
Besides learning how to be a lineman, other preparation that prospective employers may require includes additional certifications for related job duties, such as a commercial driver’s license that enables workers to navigate big trucks.
Some linemen pursue an associate’s degree in electronics, which can be useful, especially if you want to specialize down the line. However, this is not a requirement to be an entry-level lineman.
Finally, some employers may require a doctor’s note stating that you are physically fit enough to manage all the moving and climbing that linemen must perform.
Pros and Cons of Being a Lineman
In many ways, the things that make being a lineman a fun and exciting job for some people would make it unappealing to others. Some people like scaling heights, hitting the road, and working up close with electrical equipment. Others would like to stay grounded, both in terms of heights and electrical currents. Consider your own temperament as you weigh these benefits and drawbacks of being a lineman.
- Good wages
- Work that’s outside and up high
- Opportunity to work with your hands
- No college degree requirement
- Ability to specialize down the road
- Long-term employment opportunities
- Frequent shifts in job site locations
- Chance to earn overtime during or after an emergency or disaster
- Exciting working conditions
- Work that’s important and allows you to see the fruits of your labor
- Union support
- Veteran-friendly environment
- A job that involves heights, which for many produce fear
- Hazardous work environment due to potential falls, shocks, electrocutions, and vehicle or equipment accidents
- Strenuous manual labor
- Irregular, weekend, overnight, and holiday hours, especially during emergencies
- Working conditions in the cold, heat, rain, and snow
- Math skills requirement
- Thousands of hours of training, usually as an apprentice, before gaining independence
- Travel, even out of state, for training and work
- Physical fitness requirement to stay in shape and light enough to climb to installation and repair sites
Salaries and Long-term Career Outlook for Linemen
Keep in mind that lineman salaries vary widely depending on location. Generally, linemen on the West Coast—notably California and Alaska—can expect the highest wages, followed by New Englanders. Average wages in these states range from about $36 to $46 per hour.
With that in mind, the median annual income for all American power-line installers and repairers in 2019 was $72,520, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Telecommunications linemen earned less—$56,750 per year during the same period, the federal government reported.
Both of those numbers are median salaries, meaning that half of lineman workers made more and half of workers made less. The highest-paid power linemen make nearly six figures, while the lowest-paid telecommunications linemen made less than $30,000. On the whole, linemen can usually make a comfortable living.
Another perk of the profession is longevity. While telecommunications technology continues to improve rapidly, the industry still relies on professional linemen to install and maintain equipment. If you become a lineman, you may need to undergo periodic training to keep up with new equipment and protocols, but the work itself appears likely to remain steady.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics sees little to no change in demand for linemen for the rest of the decade.
How to Become a Lineman: Costs for Job Training
One good thing about becoming a lineman is that you can learn most of the skills on the job. The drawback is that while you earn money during your apprenticeship period, you will earn substantially less than the wages that fully-trained linemen earn.
Apprentices earned, on average, about $48,500 per year in 2018. That is certainly a living wage, and the number jumps by tens of thousands of dollars per year for journeyman line installation and repair workers. Apprenticeships tend to last between three and four years.
You may decide to pursue training through an academic program to get your career off the ground faster. The Northwest Lineman College charges between $18,825 and $20,326 for a 15-week training course, depending on which of their campuses you attend. The amount includes tuition, fees, and equipment. Additional advanced training, such as to become a certified crane operator, is additional. In the case of a crane operation certificate, the cost is about $1,900.
The Southeast Lineman Training Center of Trenton, Georgia, offers its 15-week training program for $17,995, which includes tools, lab fees, certification, manuals, and tuition.
If you determine that a training program might help jump-start your career but you are apprehensive about the price, schools may extend a favorable loan.
Some prospective linemen may receive tuition help through the federal government’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. You should see if you qualify by visiting your local unemployment office (which the government may call a “career center” in your town).
Remember that individual employers may seek additional certifications beyond the basic lineman training or apprenticeship program. If so, either they or your local union can help you find out where you can get training and at what price.
Other Career Paths Similar to Linemen
If you have considered how to become a lineman and it seems close to what you are looking for, keep in mind some of these other options.
Electrical engineers design equipment like the items linemen use. Engineers must earn at least a bachelor’s degree but can develop, build, and test the next generation of goods and gear,
Electricians provide a range of installation, maintenance, and repair work. They can take a variety of jobs or start their own small business. Some electricians have only a high school diploma, while others may have additional certifications, a college degree, or even advanced degrees.
If you like the idea of working on power and telecommunications lines but want to work on a different portion of the process, consider a job at a power plant or working for a telecommunications company.
Power plant staff work at the facilities that generate the electricity flowing through a line crew’s power lines. Telecommunications equipment installers and repairers work at the other end of the line, setting up and maintaining communications devices in clients’ homes and offices. These related career paths require at least a high school diploma and possibly some post-secondary training or certification.
Want to Learn More? Blue Collar Brain Can Help!
While becoming a lineman does not require a college degree, it still requires a substantial investment of your time. In most cases, linemen work under more seasoned workers for three or four years to learn the necessary skills. However, with some patience and hard work, you can expect a rewarding career.
Blue Collar Brain has collected a library of information on vocational training and job opportunities in trade careers. Whether you want to pursue work as a lineman or as another type of skilled worker, please enjoy the resources we have compiled here for you.
*Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics