Consumers Energy hit by worker shortage

Consumers Energy line worker
A Consumers Energy employee works on a power line. (March 10, 2017)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Six out-of-state power companies are playing a big role in helping Michigan recover from Wednesday’s wind storm.

By Friday afternoon, only spotty outages remained across the state.

Mutual aid plans help utilities deal with large-scale outages like this historic one. But it’s getting difficult attracting line workers to do the everyday job of maintaining, inspecting and repairing electrical lines.

The average person leaning over the side of the bucket to fix your power lines is getting older, and the line of people to replace those aging workers isn’t getting longer.

Consumers Energy has just under 600 line workers.

“But were retiring quite a few of those. Our demographics don’t look like any other company’s. And you’ll see every couple of years, you’ll drop 25 percent of your line worker crew,” explained Dan Malone, Consumers Energy’s senior vice president of energy resources.

Utilities like Consumers Energy are facing the same problem most companies that rely on skilled trades are facing: a lack of interest.

“It’s everybody wanting the kids to go to college and not encouraging that there are (other) careers and trades. Some of the building trades are hit in the same way,” said Malone.

“Quite honestly the industry hasn’t been very good at promoting some of these careers,” he added.

Consumers Energy has set a goal of hiring 50 line workers a year in the near future, just to keep pace with retirements and increased demand for service. The effort has gone statewide.

Along with working with the union, local community colleges and others to promote line work and provide job training, Consumers Energy is also playing a major role in the launch of The Michigan Talent Architecture next year. It’s a way to expose students to the skilled trades early on.

“To help increase that education. To help define and get into the schools in the sophomore year and started getting to kids in high school (that) there are careers out there,” said Malone.

To work on power lines for Consumers Energy, you need to love the outdoors and accept Michigan’s climate — from frigid winters to hot summers and everything in between.

You also need to be comfortable with heights and most of all, working with electricity.

Potential line workers can start an apprentice program right out of high school. It takes about three years to get a journeymen’s card.

It all pays for those who land a job with Consumers Energy.

“You’re going to work some overtime. You can pull $100,000,” said Malone.

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