Securing a spot as an apprentice lineworker at Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) is no easy feat.
Upwards of 600 aspiring lineworkers applied for SMUD’s apprentice program earlier this year. About three-quarters of them scored well enough on the written test to move on to the next round, which is a three-day process where the applicants are tested on their physical strength and climbing ability.
The tests are intense and challenging, and only about a third made it through. Those who passed the three-day test moved on to the interview round, and the individuals who scored highest in their interviews were offered a spot at the two-week climbing school.
Out of the initial group of more 600 applicants, just 15 made it to climbing school, where they had both classroom and practical lessons each day. They learned about knots, studied the materials board and were instructed on standard lineworker tasks, including hanging ten-foot double-heavies with cross-arms and pin-and-glass.
On the final day of climbing school, the applicants go through one last test.
“Part of the final climbing school test involves hanging a set of ten-foot heavies. We’re mostly looking at the order of operations and how they do things, to make sure they’re not missing steps or dropping hardware,” said SMUD Line Foreman Cayleb Bowman, who has taught at eight climbing schools during his 13 years at the utility. “And then they’re given a test on the entire materials board, and we also test them on their knots as well.”
Of the 15 finalists who made it to climbing school, one dropped out, one was injured (but will likely take the test when he recovers), but the other 13 successfully graduated and have been placed on the eligibility list to begin on-the-job apprenticeships.
Photos by John Storey