LUCEDALE, Miss. (WKRG) – A new group of electrical linemen are out in the field throughout the state after graduating in George County on Thursday, Dec. 8.

This year’s class joins a long line of graduates to be trained in the county. The Apprentice Electric Lineman program at the George County Center of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC) was one of the first of its kind nationally when it began in 1999.

Since then, graduates from the George County program have kept lights on in the region and helped restore power after nearly every U.S. hurricane over the past two decades.

“We have students that come from all over the state and sometimes even outside of the state of Mississippi for this program,” said Dr. Lisa Rhods, the center’s dean. “It has a very good reputation and we’re real proud of it.”

When David Eubanks began his 36 year career at Singing River Electric, entry-level workers would get hired on as groundmen. If they could not learn how to climb the poles, they would be fired.

Now, as the lead program instructor, Eubanks uses each day of the fall semester to teach the students everything they need to know to start out successfully as a lineman.

“First day, they started off with posthole diggers and set the short poles by hand,” said Eubanks. “Then we train on fall restraint and how to climb up the poles while being safe. We’ve got a good class of climbers this year.”

Students are in the program full-time for 16 weeks, for a total of 600 hours of instruction. Two days per week are typically spent in the classroom with three days in the field.

By graduation, the students can climb the tallest poll, 70 feet. They also leave with a long list of certifications including CPR, equipment safety, hazardous materials, National Electrical Code, transformer maintenance.

“The hardest thing for me was the blind side parallel parking on the [bucket] truck while I was taking my CDL test, but they do give you a lot of time to practice driving and help you be able to get down with it,” said apprentice lineman Hayden Cooley, from New Augusta.

The students come from all different backgrounds. Some are recent high school graduates while others have associate’s or bachelor’s degrees and are looking to change careers.

“A lot of them are used to following instructions from the teacher in high school,” said Eubanks. “And with working on the power lines, you need to be able to think for yourself and make sure things are safe for yourself as you get out there. We try to give them a good start.”

The linemen quickly realize they can not be successful in the program working alone.

“If you want to do the class, you need to make sure you can work with people,” said apprentice lineman Will Taylor, a Lucedale native. “Everybody did something different before the class but all of us kind of grown to work together. And all of us grew to create a bond with each other. We all look out for each other and we try to keep everybody safe. It’s been real fun.”

The program includes an advisory board with representatives from the center’s neighbor, Singing River Electric, and Dixie, Magnolia, Pearl River electric cooperatives and Cooperative Energy.

When the program launched, it saved the companies up to $20,000 to train each entry-level worker before they could go in the field.

“They’re very involved with the program making sure that our students are competitive when they leave the program and are able to get jobs,” said Rhodes. “They make sure that our students are up to date on all of the latest technology in the field and often make equipment and monetary contributions to help make that happen.”

The program is offered every fall. Registration opens on April 1 with first-come, first-served acceptance as long as they are eligible for MGCCC admission. Each year, applicants camp out overnight with others being added to a waitlist.

Each year, the cooperatives take part in a career day with the students. The graduates have a 100% placement rate for finding jobs in the field.

“It’s really a great thing to do,” said Cooley. “If you don’t want to go to university and want to come straight out of school and get a good trade. This would be the one for you. I really enjoy it.”