OTC’s Richwood Valley campus debuts lineworker program

KOLR10 Daybreak

CHRISTIAN COUNTY, Mo. – With a new school year comes more opportunities close by for students at Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC). As of this week, OTC now has two locations for its lineworker program: Lebanon and Christian County.

As technical programs director of the college, Keith Dinwiddie says the expansion allows OTC to accept 48 students into its program every fall: 24 in Lebanon and 24 in Christian County.

“We expanded to Richwood Valley because we were on track to say more no’s than yes’s this year,” Dinwiddie said. “It was to better serve our student population. It’s to try to make it more convenient for them and make it easier to access. We’ve had students from Preston, Missouri, up by the Kansas line and the Illinois line. One student moved up from Arkansas. With the opening of Richwood Valley, I anticipate we’ll draw in a lot more from northern Arkansas. That’s going to open this up for students.”

Students learn how to safely climb utility poles and install Electrical Distribution Systems (EDS) in the two-year program. Graduates will earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in EDS and receive a commercial driver’s license. Students will also be trained in first aid and CPR.

“Those skills are crucial,” Dinwiddie said. “Our students do an internship between year one and year two. We hear a lot of praise about our students’ skillset.”

Dinwiddie said in 2020, 18 students graduated, and all but two had a job within a week of getting their diploma.

“Many co-ops and utilities are looking for students to come out with these skills,” Dinwiddie said. “They don’t want to hire anybody straight off the street as much. They want somebody who has gone through these programs to show that they’re in it to win it.”

The program is two days a week in the Fall 2021 semester. Students will be working on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Come Spring 2022 the course will operate on a back-to-back format. Year one students will be on campus Monday and Tuesday, and the year two group will be on campus Wednesday and Thursday.

“That way, they have more days in a row to work,” Dinwiddie said. “If they’re driving a long distance, then maybe they can crash at a hotel or stay with a friend or family member instead of having to relocate. It’s going to be a big boom for our students.”

Dinwiddie says the industry pays well. He has had students making $26 an hour at their internship. The starting wage for an apprentice lineman is around $28 an hour, and it tops out around $40 to $50 an hour in a nine-to-five job. Dinwiddie says the average line worker in southwest Missouri makes nearly $80,000 a year.

President of the Richwood Valley campus, Dr. Cliff Davis, says the field is becoming more popular around the country.

“Right now, we have a lot of our Southwest Missouri line workers that are doing work in California,” Dr. Davis said. “There’s such a demand. A lot of these line workers will be traveling crews. But here in Southwest Missouri, there is huge demand. Every one of our graduates or students could graduate and go to work right here in southwest Missouri.”

He says the program’s expansion is already helping his campus tremendously.

“The line worker program is one of those programs that whenever we fill it, we’re going to have people lined up for it,” Dr. Davis said. “We’re thrilled to offer it here and have it in Christian County. The good news is it doesn’t just serve Christian County. It serves all of southwest Missouri. We’re just seeing a lot more interest. People tell us that they drive by us every day but have never been in the building. Some of them are five years old. Some of them are 80 years old. But we’re asking them to be a part of what we do. I think it reflects on what is sitting right now at about a nine percent growth at this campus for the fall semester.”

This is Richwood Valley’s second technical education program. Two years ago, students were introduced to an agriculture program.

“It exploded year one,” Dr. Davis said. “This year is probably our top in terms of enrollment growth. Now we have two technical education programs, and both are doing a fantastic job.”

Dr. Davis says he originally planned to cap the lineworker program at 18 students, but that quickly changed to 24.

“The demand is so high,” Dr. Davis said. “Our new instructor said, ‘Hey, bring on 24. I’m ready to go.”

Anyone interested in the program in Lebanon or Richwood Valley is encouraged to click here. You can also email eds@otc.edu or call 417-447-8146.

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