Friday, 08 February 2019 15:30

18 graduate from Richmond Community College's new lineman program

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Students and instructors from Richmond Community College's new lineman program pose for a group photo following the graduation ceremony Friday. Students and instructors from Richmond Community College's new lineman program pose for a group photo following the graduation ceremony Friday. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

HAMLET — Eighteen students are ready for a career as a lineman after graduating from one of Richmond Community College’s latest programs.

The lobby of Cole Auditorium was packed Friday morning with family members and representatives from several electrical companies as the students received their certificates.

Dr. Dale McInnis, college president, spoke about the courage it took from all those involved, especially the students.

“That took courage, a leap of faith, in themselves and, I’m glad to say, in our college,” he said. “Everybody here ... worked to make this a reality.”

McInnis said the equipment and poles were still being set up when the students began their classroom portion of the program.

Some, like Mary Dial, the sole female of the group, quit their jobs to go through the program.

“How much guts does that take, to just stop what you’re doing?” McInnis asked.

Dial, who likes being outdoors, previously worked in construction and said she had long been interested in the electrical field. 

“It just kinda went hand-in-hand together,” she said.

She left her job as a live-in caregiver to pursue a new career.

McInnis said two of the other students are were police officers before entering the program.

The president also talked about the students’ courage to climb the poles and go up in the bucket truck, joking about his own nervousness of being sent up in the bucket.

Instructor Scott Caulder, who previously worked for Pee Dee Electric, presented a certificate to Bailey McCormick, who was the fastest student in the pole-rescue challenge where they had to climb the pole and rescue a 150-pound dummy from the top and “rope it down” within five minutes.

McInnis said the program started with 20 students, but two wound up dropping out. Those who graduated are: Terry Bell, Jesse Benoist, Alan Blackmon Jr., Cyran Dial, Mary Dial, Andrew Guinn, Chad Huggins, Jacob Jones, Matthew Lee, James Locklear, Phillip Locklear, Charles McCaskill, Bailey McCormick, Alden Morrison, Christian Rhone, Charles Sessoms, Christopher Sheppard and Dustin Williams.

Aside from Caulder, Garry Veach and Joey Keane also served as instructors for the program.

There are several programs like this in North Carolina, but McInnis said this is the only one between Winston-Salem and Wilmington.

The double-whammy of hurricanes Florence and Michael created even more need for such a program, McInnis said.

One of the biggest pieces of putting the program’s puzzle together was a special $300,000 appropriation from the N.C. General Assembly.

“That funding is what allowed us to clear the land, get the trailer, buy the equipment and really have the start-up funds to make this happen,” McInnis said. “Normally, we couldn’t have done this. “(There’s) a tremendous amount of money involved getting it started … but we wanted to do it right.”

The program at Richmond also included a CPR course and the prep work for the students to get their CDL, which McInnis said a lot of other programs don’t offer.

During the program’s 26 days, from 8 to 5 p.m. — and sometimes longer —  the students dealt with temperatures ranging from 20 to 79 degrees, according to Angineek Gillenwater, director of workforce and economic development. She added it rained one-fourth of those days.

That gave the students experience in some of the conditions they’ll have to work in.

“These students gave me 110 percent of their hearts and souls through the cold and rainy days in the field,” Caulder said.

The lineman program, along with the upcoming pharmacy tech program, represents a shift in the role that community colleges play by focusing on credentials required by local employers.

“If they require a two-year degree, we’ll deliver the two-year degree,” McInnis said. “But if not, we’re going to find the right credential or certification they need to go to work.

“And if you can do it in nine weeks going full time, instead of two years or a year … it’s a good option for these folks.”

He said the college is starting to lean more toward preparing students for jobs that are recession-proof and can’t be exported to another country.

“This has to be local, it has to be home-grown,” he said.

Another advantage for the students, McInnis added, is mobility in the job — being able to stay in the Sandhills or “go anywhere in the world.”

McInnis said the next class will start in March and the college will be adding additional modules in the future.

“We want it to be the one everyone else comes to.”