New Del Mar College program trains electrical workers 40 feet in the air

Rodolfo "Rudy" Landeros practices three phase grounding or de-energizing a simulated 14,400 volt line during a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas.
Rodolfo "Rudy" Landeros practices three phase grounding or de-energizing a simulated 14,400 volt line during a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas.

Moving quickly up a wooden pole shaking in the wind, Del Mar College student Rudy Landeros made it 40 feet above ground and rescued a training dummy in one minute and 11 seconds.

Down below, instructor Robert Bryson whooped in excitement as Landeros finished his task well ahead of the four minute time limit to successfully save the mannequin, representing a fellow lineman injured on the job.

Andrew "Blake" Galvan, center, and Gabriel "Gabe" Garcia post flags before participating in a skill rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas. They are two of four continuing education students to complete Del Mar College's first Entry Level Electrical Lineworker Program.
Andrew "Blake" Galvan, center, and Gabriel "Gabe" Garcia post flags before participating in a skill rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas. They are two of four continuing education students to complete Del Mar College's first Entry Level Electrical Lineworker Program.

"An average time is going to be a minute and a half to two minutes to get a man down," Bryson said.

Landeros was one of four Del Mar College Continuing Education students completing the college's new electrical lineworker program Tuesday with a "skills rodeo."

From top left, Andrew "Blake" Galvan, Christopher Luzania and Rodolfo "Rudy" Landeros participate in a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas. They are three of four continuing education students to complete Del Mar College's first Entry Level Electrical Lineworker Program.
From top left, Andrew "Blake" Galvan, Christopher Luzania and Rodolfo "Rudy" Landeros participate in a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas. They are three of four continuing education students to complete Del Mar College's first Entry Level Electrical Lineworker Program.

The 10-week program, the first community college program of its kind in the Coastal Bend, began in January with five students. Four made it to the skills test, one of the last steps before a graduation ceremony scheduled Thursday.

"These guys got their hooks 10 short weeks ago when they couldn't even get off the ground," Bryson said. "We've come a long way."

Christopher Luzania changes out an insulator during a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas. "It's a simple job but it's one that's critical," instructor Robert Bryson said.
Christopher Luzania changes out an insulator during a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas. "It's a simple job but it's one that's critical," instructor Robert Bryson said.

Landeros said he likes the idea of being able to work outside.

"I've always enjoyed working outdoors where I feel like I'm being a whole lot more productive," Landeros said. "Being able to climb on the pole, being able to work above ground, it's a challenge for some, but once you get over the fear, everything comes natural."

Christopher Luzania changes out an insulator during a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas. "It's a simple job but it's one that's critical," instructor Robert Bryson said.
Christopher Luzania changes out an insulator during a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas. "It's a simple job but it's one that's critical," instructor Robert Bryson said.

Upon completion of the program, the students can be hired as apprentices, where they will continue to train and progress in the profession. It takes about six years, or about 8,000 hours, to become a journeyman lineman.

The average annual wage for electrical power-line installers and repairers in Texas was $68,790 in May 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Bryson, who has been involved in starting community college lineman training programs across the state, said there has been a need for more electrical linemen for years.

"In 1995, we knew we were in trouble," Bryson said. "We didn't have the skilled workforce that we needed to keep the lights on."

Gabriel "Gabe" Garcia posts a flag before participating in a skill rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas.
Gabriel "Gabe" Garcia posts a flag before participating in a skill rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas.

In the 1990s, professionals in the industry invested in training programs hoping to address a shortage of 35,000 to 40,000 linemen, Bryson said.

But as the use of electricity has increased, the gap isn't getting smaller.

"When you have that kind of growth, you have to have more people," Bryson said. "We thought we'd gain ground, but in essence, we're losing ground."

The Del Mar College program was developed with the support of local utility programs. Nueces Electric Cooperative allowed the college to use its training field, while American Electric Power is providing scholarship funds to cover tuition costs. Other area companies provided judges for the skills contest.

Andrew "Blake" Galvan attempts a pole-top rescue during a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas. Galvan had four minutes to complete the exercise.
Andrew "Blake" Galvan attempts a pole-top rescue during a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas. Galvan had four minutes to complete the exercise.

Drawing also from a grant from Texas Mutual Insurance Company, the college covered full tuition costs for all of the students, though students did have to purchase tools, which can cost over $3,000.

Leonard Rivera, the college's associate vice president of continuing education, said that Del Mar College hopes the program will attract students from surrounding communities. The program will run again in the summer and in the fall. Applications are due May 15 for the summer program and Aug. 21 for the fall program.

Gabriel "Gabe" Garcia reacts after finishing a pole-top rescue during a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas.
Gabriel "Gabe" Garcia reacts after finishing a pole-top rescue during a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas.

At the skills demonstration Tuesday, students demonstrated their ability to change out broken insulators and wiring and to de-energize a wire, tasks they would have to do on the job. Friends and family gathered to watch.

Cheering for Landeros on the sidelines were his mother, sister and grandmother.

"Watching him accomplish this is just amazing and heartwarming," mom Ester Landeros said, adding that if a storm hits, her son will be a first responder helping to restore power. "I'm very proud of him."

Andrew "Blake" Galvan, center, and Christopher Luzania, right, participate in a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas. They are two of four continuing education students to complete Del Mar College's first Entry Level Electrical Lineworker Program.
Andrew "Blake" Galvan, center, and Christopher Luzania, right, participate in a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas. They are two of four continuing education students to complete Del Mar College's first Entry Level Electrical Lineworker Program.

Student Gabriel Garcia said that he's always wanted to be a lineman.

"I've always liked electrical work," Garcia said. "I grew up as a kid wanting to do this. When I heard about this chance at Del Mar, I just took my opportunity."

Garcia said that the industry feels like a brotherhood.

"These people are like your family, like your brothers," Garcia said. "The bond we have for each other, it's real and that's what I really liked about this lineworker industry."

Christopher Luzania completes a pole-top rescue during a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas. Luzania had four minutes to complete the exercise.
Christopher Luzania completes a pole-top rescue during a skills rodeo at Nueces Electric Cooperative's training field on April 4, 2023, in Robstown, Texas. Luzania had four minutes to complete the exercise.

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This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: Del Mar College program trains electrical workers 40 feet in the air