December 8, 2023
Power Lessons
Lineworker Alejandro Guillen changed careers after working eight years as a paramedic.

Photo: Duke Energy Florida

Power Lessons
Classmates reach out while following their instructor's direction during St. Petersburg College's electrical lineworker class.

Photo: Ivy Ceball/Tampa Bay Times

Economic Backbone: Energy

Power Lessons

Art Levy | 9/19/2023

After working as a paramedic for eight years — and dealing with the emotional toll that comes with such a job — Alejandro Guillen was ready for a career change.

“But,” he says, “I still had that need, that desire, to help people.”

That desire led him to become a utility company lineworker, part of the crew that shows up after a power failure to get the electricity back on. “Fixing someone’s power who hasn't had power for a couple of days, that’s a good feeling,” he says.

To change careers, the 27-year-old Miami native enrolled in a 14-week lineworker training program at St. Petersburg College. He finished the course in October 2021, and by January 2022, he had a job in St. Petersburg working as a lineworker apprentice for Duke Energy Florida. As an apprentice, he works each day alongside a more experienced Duke Energy Florida journeyman lineworker, who acts as both mentor and teacher.

“I’m constantly learning,” Guillen says.

On the job for nearly two years, Guillen still needs to work as an apprentice for another two or three years before he qualifies to reach the level of journeyman lineworker. By that time, his salary will likely exceed six figures, and he’ll be in line to mentor his own apprentice.

More than 170 students have enrolled in the SPC program since it began in March 2021, including 30 who have been hired by Duke Energy Florida. In all, 65% of the graduates have found jobs in the industry.

Duke typically hires between 40 and 100 apprentices each year and doesn’t just recruit SPC grads. Similar lineworker programs are also offered at South Florida State College in Avon Park, Valencia College in Orlando and Lake-Sumter State College in Central Florida. In partnership with Tampa Electric (TECO), Hillsborough Community College recently launched a lineworker training program at its Brandon campus. TECO has pledged more than $300,000 in annual support for scholarships and equipment for the program.

Since 2021, Duke Energy Florida has donated $350,000 to help fund the SPC program, which also gets support from the Pinellas County Urban League, Pinellas Technical College and CareerSource Pinellas. PowerTown Line Construction of Seffner has donated training equipment and helps to maintain and update the program’s training area at SPC’s Allstate Center campus in south St. Petersburg.

SPC President Tonjua Williams says the college is committed to working with businesses to support growth and create jobs for SPC graduates.

“Strengthening the talent pipeline exemplifies the college’s vision of economic mobility,” Williams says.  

Tags: Energy & Utilities, Feature, Energy, Economic Backbone: Energy

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