Utility tech program grows at college

As an aging utilities workforce phases into retirement, there remains a huge demand to fill their spots in the energy field in the next several years.

The Iowa Valley Community College District and Marshalltown Community College have stepped up to partner with utility companies to help meet that demand by providing trained students.

In March 2011, Iowa Valley started a series of 10-week utility technician training programs that have been a success, with more than a 90 percent job placement rate.

After a grant ran out for the program, MCC found a way to sustain a utility training program by making it a one-year diploma program at the college.

Currently, that first one-year program is half completed and one student has a job with Alliant Energy lined up even though he still has one semester of the program to complete.

“We’re training what the utilities need,” said Lori Wildman, workforce education coordinator at Iowa Valley. “This workforce is aging and energy is always going to be there.”

Wildman has been in charge of the 10-week program, which will conclude with a final program beginning in March.

“In the last 30 days, Alliant has hired five of our students,” Wildman said.

The focus now has shifted to the one-year diploma program, which includes classes dealing with electronics, electrical skills, pole climbing and several other topics. Chris Russell, dean of student academics and affairs at MCC, said this program starts out with general information then students can choose to take a focus on electrical utility training or gas utility training.

Previous graduates start out as meter readers and could move up into the journeyman apprentice program. Their start in the utility tech program gives them a leg up on the apprenticeship and could even shave years off that three to five year program with Alliant.

Brody White of Tama is a student in the one-year diploma program and he feels his future is bright.

“I have people that I know that are in (the energy field) and are making good money,” White said. “I like that it’s outdoors and it’s hands-on.”

Alliant Energy is a major partner working with the college to pinpoint exactly what they need in the training and also has offered its training center in Marshalltown for use by the program. Russell said the college will continue to partner with utility companies to see what their staffing needs are in the future, so the college programs can cater to the work demand.

“We are looking at what the industry is guiding us on,” Russell said. “I think we’re always assessing what the needs are for industry in central Iowa.”

For more information on the program visit www.oneyeartoacareer.com