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Capital Region students get insight on utility industry work

January 9, 2013
Updated 6:53 p.m.
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Ed Dings, one of the elecrical trainers for National Grid, shows Tech Valley High and Questar III students a shotgun stick tool, used to remove the connection between two wires, Wednesday in Schenectady.
Ed Dings, one of the elecrical trainers for National Grid, shows Tech Valley High and Questar III students a shotgun stick tool, used to remove the connection between two wires, Wednesday in Schenectady.

— There are pros and cons to being a line person for National Grid.

Students from Tech Valley High School and Questar III BOCES learned about both this week during a three-day immersion program with the company designed to give them a realistic understanding of the utility industry.

“They actually visited with a crew yesterday inside our garage, and the crew was very good. They were very frank. They told them about the rewards as well as the pitfalls of being a line person — long hours, cold weather, no sleep,” said Michael DiAcetis, manager of community and customer management for National Grid.

The biggest pro of working for the company is the opportunity to help people by restoring their power, he said.

On Wednesday, day two of the instructional program, the group of four male students in hard hats and safety goggles were taking it all in at National Grid’s Schenectady Learning Center, where they received training in the electrical and gas work the company performs.

They spent time with instructors in the Linemen’s Lab, which is furnished with heating equipment and a mockup of an electric distribution system, complete with six shorter-than-normal utility poles strung with wires.

There, they learned what linemen do and the safety protocol they need to follow.

Outdoors, instructors showed the students the harnesses used to climb a utility pole and explained the features of a bucket truck.

As they stood outside, the cold seeped into fingers and reddened noses, but it didn’t seem to cool the enthusiasm of the attentive group.

Aaron Jackson, a Chatham High School senior who attends Questar III classes, hopes to work for National Grid after college. Talking to actual linemen during the program helped him feel more confident about his career path.

“I wasn’t so comfortable before, [about] climbing poles and stuff, but talking to everybody, it gives me the motivation that I can probably do it,” he said.

Joshua Forhan, a junior at Tech Valley High, was already familiar with the electrical side of the utility company but was very interested to learn about the company’s work with gas lines.

“When they came in and showed us how to fuse pipes and everything, it gave me another side to the business. They did a whole workshop on it and they taught us how to do it and what they have to do in the field,” he said.

The two instructors working with the students Wednesday both have been employed by National Grid for more than 30 years and share a love for their careers.

“You see this playground out there?” electric trainer Ed Dings asked, his eyes on the utility poles soaring above him, outside the training facility. “This is my life. I’ve done this my whole life. It’s a passion, and to teach is a greater passion,” he said.

Chief line mechanic Mike Pommer said he hopes the information he and Dings pass on to the students will spark an interest in a career with National Grid.

“It’s been a great career for me,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve regretted one day that I’ve come here.”

The opportunity to hear firsthand from National Grid employees and to obtain hands-on experience is very valuable for the students, said Michael McCagg, communications coordinator for Tech Valley High.

“Through these experiences, [the students] can understand and learn that there’s math in energy, there’s science in electricity. Everything that they’ve had to learn to this point in their educational system has a real-world application in the workforce,” he said.

Thursday, the students will visit National Grid’s regional control center in Guilderland.

 
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