Last fall, construction was completed on a new Lineworker Training Center at Bismarck State College (BSC) that aims to bring more lineworkers to the Bismarck-Mandan area. The project was brought to life in tandem with the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives (NDAREC) to become the state’s only indoor lineworker program.
I connected with Josh Kramer, Executive VP and General Manager of the NDAREC, as well as Bruce Emmil, Former Dean of the National Energy Center of Excellence at BSC, to discuss the lineworker program’s growth, the facility’s construction, its impact on the community, and more.
In 1970, the NDAREC and BSC partnered to launch a lineworker training program through Bismarck State College. Since the program’s debut, BSC has leased space from the NDAREC to practice outside. There, BSC trains students to learn about the lineworker trade over a nine-month program that prepares them for installing, repairing, and servicing electrical lines damaged due to storms or ground disruptions. For over 50 years, the program has been bringing more citizens to the Bismarck-Mandan area.
“When the program launched in 1970, it wasn’t anywhere near what it is today. We had 20 to 25 students and very limited equipment. Just 10 years ago, we didn’t even have a bucket truck. Now, we have an advisory committee and bucket trucks so that students can be working in real-life situations that will prepare them for linework in North Dakota,” Emmil said. “BSC’s long-standing partnership with the NDAREC has been nothing short of excellent. We certainly couldn’t do what we do without partners like Josh and the rest of the NDAREC.”
Recently, their program has become the first of its kind in the state of North Dakota with their new indoor training facility. At over 26,000 square feet, 18,000 of which are dedicated to training space, the new Lineworker Training Center is the first and only indoor lineworker training facility in the state.
“We’ve always advocated for safe training, which is the primary reason we have the Lineworker Training Center. In North Dakota, there are a lot of days when students can’t train outside because of the weather, for safety reasons. Even with the new facility, they will still train outside often to prepare for their trade, but we want to also offer a much more conducive environment for learning. It’s one thing to actually do the work and it’s another to learn to do the work,” Kramer said.
The indoor training facility offers students an opportunity to learn and practice their work, even on the most unbearably cold winter days. The lineworker training program through BSC is nine months long, as students have summers off. In this facility, they’ll be well-prepared for training on dangerously cold days that would have previously been canceled.
This new Lineworker Training Center offers more than just the opportunity to practice in a safe, heated environment. The facility offers a training area with 50-foot high walls and 44 feet of clearance, along with two classrooms, two CDL simulators, and a locker area for lineworker students to safely store their tools and equipment.
“It’s a great indoor climbing arena facility for the students, which makes training much more manageable when it’s extremely windy and cold. When we train 60 lineworkers for the conditions they’re going to face, we want to train them in a safe and controlled environment,” Emmil said.
“Overall, the new facility and its amenities offer a much more conducive learning experience to the students, and we’re happy to work with Bismarck State College on this project. They lease the space from us and hire their own trainers. All in all, they’ve been great partners that really know what they’re doing. The spots in the program have filled up quickly, which is a great thing to see in the program,” Kramer said.
“As the only indoor training program in the state, students can climb poles and do everything that they would typically do in the yard,” Kramer added. “They can even do underground trenching, as it’s a dirt floor arena, so they’re able to do everything indoors that they typically would have to go outdoors to do. I think that this is a very important trade and that it’s important to have a lineworker workforce that’s supported.”
While the new facility is groundbreaking for BSC’s training program, it also aims to boost the local economy through more students and utility workers coming to the area for training. When students aren’t utilizing the space during their school sessions, NDAREC’s cooperatives are able to bring lineworkers in to train safely and efficiently.
“Having that trained workforce in our state is crucial to the whole region. The growing program is bringing an increased number of students to the area. If BSC didn’t have the program, that would be 60 fewer students per year coming to Bismarck and spending money in our community,” Kramer said.
With the lineworker training facility expected to bring an additional burst of economic growth to the Bismarck-Mandan area, and the program expected to only continue growing, signs are looking positive for the BSC and NDAREC’s collaboration. To learn more about BSC’s lineworker training program, as well as the NDAREC’s other projects, check out their site and more resources.
More About The NDAREC
Aside from the Lineworker Training Center, the NDAREC routinely brings in cooperative employees and other organizations to utilize their meeting center, which is a great space to bring people together and provide educational opportunities for both cooperative employees and directors.