DTE Energy apprentice line workers prepare for the installation of three training utility poles for students at Oakland Schools Technical Campus Southeast in Royal Oak April 23.

DTE Energy apprentice line workers prepare for the installation of three training utility poles for students at Oakland Schools Technical Campus Southeast in Royal Oak April 23.

Photo by Deb Jacques


DTE’s new training poles expose students to utility careers

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published May 15, 2021

 Workers use shovels and an auger.

Workers use shovels and an auger.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 DTE Energy apprentice line workers prepare cable to string between three training utility poles at Oakland Schools Technical Campus Southeast in Royal Oak April 23.

DTE Energy apprentice line workers prepare cable to string between three training utility poles at Oakland Schools Technical Campus Southeast in Royal Oak April 23.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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ROYAL OAK — On April 23, apprentice line workers with DTE Energy installed three 10-foot utility poles at Oakland Schools Technical Campus Southeast, 5155 Delamere Ave. in Royal Oak.

With an anticipated shortage of skilled trade labor and the importance of hands-on training in the energy industry, DTE donated the training utility poles so metro Detroit high schoolers who may be interested in becoming apprentice line workers can get a feel for what the career entails.

Oakland Schools Technical Campus Southeast’s Energy Electrical Technical program educates high school students in energy careers, and the training utility poles will provide experience for a career path that cannot be taught virtually during a pandemic.

The DTE Energy Foundation previously awarded $25,000 to the Oakland Schools Education Foundation for utility pole climbing equipment and harnesses.

Tom Randazzo, OSTCS’s electric and energy instructor, said most of the students at the technical campus are not college bound.

“It’s a big fallacy that you have to go to college to get a good paying job, which is what most everybody’s been taught to believe,” Randazzo said. “We know there’s going to be a shortage of skilled trades jobs in the near future, and we know that there’s a lot of students who graduate from high school who are looking for good paying jobs.”

He said skilled trades students do not need to be straight-A students to succeed in their fields; rather, it is more important that they like to work with their hands and be creative.

“That’s what most of these kids are,” Randazzo said.

Besides line workers, jobs in the energy industry are diverse, ranging from trimming trees to clearing power lines to substation technicians.

“What we’re doing now is working with some of the local unions to line these students up with jobs,” Randazzo said. “Once you go through an apprenticeship, that’s a skill set you carry your entire life, and it’s one that will afford you a good living.”

Moving forward, he said, energy companies will heavily invest in renewable resources such as wind and solar, but utility poles will continue to be necessary to transmit the power.

“This kind of hands-on education can prepare a young person for what goes into these jobs on the front line, which help us deliver the safe, reliable energy our customers expect from us,” said Deborah Majeski, who manages DTE’s workforce development. “The exposure to climbing makes sure they have no fear of heights and understand what it’s like to work outside in different kinds of weather.”

Majeski said that the experience as a high school student can help a young person prepare for a four-year apprenticeship instead of a four-year college degree program, should they opt for a skilled trades profession.

“These poles are for youth between the ages of 16 and 18,” she said.

She added that DTE has 40-foot training utility poles at both Henry Ford College in Dearborn and at DTE property in Westland, so apprentices ages 18 and older can become familiar with climbing.

“We always will have some type of utility poles,” Majeski said. “We have a lot of underground systems going in subdivisions, but we also still have a lot of properties where we’re going to have to maintain poles. We have over 1 million poles that we’re responsible for.”

When a storm takes poles or wires down in areas that bucket trucks cannot reach, such as backyards, there remains a need for line workers who can scale utility poles and reattach all of the parties to the pole.

Tom Swayne, a DTE lineman and apprentice crew leader, said all of the workers who installed the utility poles at OSTCS were new apprentices, including some hired this winter.

“A couple of these guys were inside the company already in another job in hopes of getting some kind of apprenticeship with DTE,” Swayne said. “A lot of them will hire in with hopes to try to get another type of apprenticeship. We have almost 14,000 employees.”

He said he has worked as a lineman for 33 years, and if he had to do his life over, he “wouldn’t change a bit.”

Much has changed since he first began his career in the energy industry, Swayne said, specifically drastic improvements in equipment, as well as a huge increase in demand for more electricity and higher voltages.

Lawson Simich, a senior at Seaholm High School and Bloomfield Township resident, said he chose the energy and electric program at OSTCS because it is one of his biggest hobbies at the moment, although he’s still trying to figure out which job he wants to pursue.

He said he recently joined the military because of the myriad opportunities to explore different paths, and while he is not sure yet whether he wants to pursue a future in the energy field, he has a natural talent for it.

He and his dad are working on a few projects that incorporate the technical skills the school teaches, and he cited a project the pair completed a few years ago on a rental house that his family owns in which they had to repair everything.

“We did like 30 grand in repairs over the course of two years,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.”

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