For N’Kiyah Johnson, enrolling in the lineworker training program at Lawson State Community College was life-changing.
Like many young people, Johnson was unsure of her interests and career path after graduating from Wenonah High School. While traditional two- or four-year college programs didn’t appeal to her, the hands-on approach of Lawson State’s lineworker training program caught her eye.
“I was excited about it,” she said. “We spent a lot of time outside the classroom learning and always putting our hands on something.”
Through partnerships with Alabama Power, community colleges in Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery offer 10-week programs where students can learn the fundamentals of electricity as well as the math and science needed to work on power lines. In addition to classroom instruction, students practice in an outdoor learning laboratory, honing their new skills so they are job-ready when they graduate.
Working together, Alabama Power and the community college system are strengthening the state’s workforce with much-needed skilled labor. During his tenure, Mark Crosswhite, Alabama Power’s outgoing president and CEO, has championed programs that prepare Alabamians for these meaningful careers.
Graduates of the lineworker programs have the opportunity to interview with the company and other utilities across the state to find the best career fit for them. Today, Johnson is an apprentice lineman with Alabama Power’s Patton Chapel crew in Birmingham.
“It’s a big accomplishment at a young age,” Johnson said. “For me to have it figured out and with a career at my age, I feel like I’m ahead.”
Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) make up about 40% of Alabama Power’s workforce, and these employees work constantly to provide dependable power to customers. Casey Shelton, IBEW System Council U-19 business manager, said Crosswhite’s leadership and support have been instrumental for prospective and existing IBEW members.
“Alabama Power and the IBEW have shared commitments to safety, training and workforce development,” Shelton said. “Mark’s leadership has helped ensure our members have the training and resources needed to do their jobs safely, serve customers and work to power the state each day.”
In addition to partnering with the IBEW on training and other initiatives, Crosswhite’s legacy includes establishing one of the strongest labor-management partnerships in the country, which the Alabama Organized Labor Awards Foundation (AOLAF) recognized by honoring him with its Friend of Labor award in 2019.
Under Crosswhite’s leadership, Alabama Power has also worked with organizations to open doors of opportunity in the skilled trades to underrepresented communities within the state.
In 2019 and 2020, Crosswhite served as the national spokesperson for the North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) apprenticeship readiness programs (ARPs), promoting program expansion across the Southeast.
These programs prepare students with the knowledge and hands-on training needed for careers as skilled tradespeople, and focus on providing good-paying, sustainable jobs with benefits for women, people of color and veterans.
More than 190 ARPs have been established nationwide to develop pipefitters, electricians, ironworkers and other skilled professionals, supporting economic growth and providing contract workers for companies, including Alabama Power.
“Serving as our Apprenticeship Readiness Program’s national spokesperson since 2019, Mark helped us continue the ARP growth across the U.S. during a global pandemic and provide more education pathways to access the fulfilling, family-sustaining careers of building trades unions,” said NABTU President Sean McGarvey.
“Strengthening the pipeline of a highly-skilled construction workforce where workers reside and are needed strengthens every community. We know the power of investing in local workers, and we applaud Mark and appreciate Alabama Power’s sincere commitment to do it with us. His leadership has been tremendous to the program’s success.”
In March, NABTU and Southern Company, Alabama Power’s parent company, joined forces to donate to TradesFutures, a nonprofit organization endeavoring to increase diversity in the construction industry through research, public education and promotion of ARPs, and Helmets to Hardhats, a nonprofit organization connecting transitioning active-duty military service members, veterans, National Guard and Reservists with skilled training and quality career opportunities in the construction industry.
“We are committed to developing a diverse workforce pipeline,” said Crosswhite. “We are pleased to continue our partnership with NABTU and TradesFutures, working together to create pathways to meaningful careers and lifting up the communities we serve.”
Learn more about upcoming lineworker training programs:
To find an apprenticeship readiness program near you, click here.