GRCC student's career reaches new heights through Pre-Lineworker Training Program

Jack Aalderink’s new career path is taking him to new heights. Literally.

The 20-year-old is excited about pursuing a career as a lineworker, which involves climbing 80 feet up a pole. 

After graduating from Zeeland West High School in 2022, Aalderink was considering either heading to Grand Valley State University for business or becoming a residential electrician.

“I hadn’t really heard about what a lineworker even is or does until a friend of mine told me he was doing it and what it involves,” Aalderink says. 

The first step for Aalderink was making sure that he isn’t afraid of heights. 

“I signed up for a two-day climb class through Lansing Community College, which was good because we started out climbing 10 feet, then 15 feet, and eventually got up to 40 feet. That is when I knew I would enjoy this work. I was pretty happy when I came upon GRCC’s program because it is closer, cheaper and faster.”

Grand Rapids Community College, in partnership with the Michigan Energy Workforce Development Consortium, began offering a pre-lineworker training program in 2021. The program includes OSHA10 certification/safety, linework physical fitness, basic electricity, and energy industry fundamentals, followed by climbing clinics, orientation and an 11-week climb school in Marshall.

Challenging, high-wage jobs

The program is very popular, due in part to the high wages associated with linework. An entry level, Step 1 lineworker typically starts at more than $40 per hour. After only seven months, Aalderink is already at a Step 2 level. With each step, lineworkers receive a wage increase and more training to learn new skills.

“It’s a lot of fun. Each day is different, and there is a great sense of accomplishment when you complete a job,” says Aalderink, who started at Consumers Energy last May and has experienced working outside in the Michigan winter. “Working in the winter isn’t bad. You warm up pretty quick once you start moving around and working.”

Last winter, Aalderink worked 16-hour days for nine or 10 days, but that is not typical. A major component to linework is the physical aspect.

“When I came into the program, I thought I was in pretty good shape,” Aalderink says. “The physical fitness portion of the GRCC program definitely prepares you well. The job is very physical and the training is somewhat similar to boot camp. “It’s all on the student to take the initiative to do the work outside of class. The class only meets once a week, so you have to be disciplined and do the workouts outside of class time. I was working out an additional five days a week.”

A Consumers Energy lineworker works from a bucket to restore power in Grand Rapids after a storm in 2019. (Consumers Energy)
The 11-week climbing school in Marshall is offered by Consumers Energy to its five educational partners: Grand Rapids Community College, Lansing Community College, Jackson College, Alpena Community College, and Mott Community College.
"Consumers Energy takes great pride in our community college pre-apprenticeship linework programs. We see the value in providing a pathway for diverse and qualified candidates to become electric lineworkers in Michigan," says Angela Thompkins, our chief diversity officer and vice president of community affairs.

"These jobs are in high demand and fulfill critical needs in serving our nearly 2 million electric customers. We’re excited to work with GRCC and other colleges to make sure future lineworkers receive high-quality, specialized training and have the skills to have successful careers with Consumers Energy."

Aalderink appreciates the high-quality, specialized training he's receiving at GRCC to prepare him for the challenges of the job. 

“When you take the climbing school, you still aren’t hired. In my climb school cohort, we started with 15 and nine of us were hired,” Aalderink says. “Those other six didn’t finish the program and left within the first couple weeks. The climb school really pushes you just enough. You want to be prepared.”

Other work in energy field

Linework isn’t the only career that focuses on the energy industry. There are a variety of positions that most people never hear about. Due to the need for workers in the energy field, employers partnered with GRCC to build a new one-year energy technician certificate program. 

That program combines credit classes and non-credit classes from GRCC, allowing students the flexibility to take core courses before determining which pathway they would like to pursue.

“These are the types of careers that are not often talked about to high schoolers,” says Aalderink. “I wouldn’t have really known about this as a career choice if I didn’t know someone who was already doing it.”

A student who successfully completes the GRCC energy technician program will earn certifications from the American Red Cross and an energy industry fundamentals certificate.

Students will also receive training in test preparation for apprentice opportunities, basic electricity, blueprint reading, hand and power tools, project management, and health/endurance training. This certificate can be a path to a career as a lineworker or other positions in the energy sector.

GRCC and its employer partners are offering an information session about the energy technician program at 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 6, at the GRCC Tassell MTEC, 622 Godfrey Ave. SW, Grand Rapids. Parking is free. Register at
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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.