As the utility industry struggles to replace aging workers, Potomac Edison is adding 18 new positions in Maryland and West Virginia, several of whom will work out of offices in Frederick and Mount Airy.
The new hires will serve as line workers or substation electricians for Potomac Edison, part of FirstEnergy Corp.
The 11 line workers are members of the first graduating class of Potomac Edison’s Power Systems Institute, a program the company operates with Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Two other line workers graduated from another school, and the five substation electricians graduated from a PSI program at Pierpont Community & Technical College in Fairmont, West Virginia.
Participants in the two-year program spent half of their time in class and the rest at a facility in Williamsport, Maryland, where they learned to climb poles and use equipment, and got their commercial driver’s license, said Todd Meyers, a spokesman for Potomac Edison.
Potomac Edison serves about 257,000 customers in Frederick County and all or parts of six other counties in Maryland, along with about 137,000 customers in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.
Blue Ridge Community and Technical College previously had a program with Allegheny Energy before it was bought by FirstEnergy, said Anne Myers, the school’s assistant director of workforce development.
The students take the same general courses as the school’s other electrical distribution students, as well as subjects such as fundamentals of electricity, circuit analysis, and technical physics, she said.
The company and the school work closely together to help the students graduate with an associate degree in applied science.
“We make sure they have all the right assistance to be successful,” Myers said.
The program helps Potomac Edison add workers to a workforce facing a looming wave of retirements in the coming years.
“The utility industry is a graying industry,” Meyers said.
The average line or substation worker is in their mid-40s, and many of them have more than 20 or 30 years of experience, he said.
FirstEnergy created the training program to “home grow” its next generation of workers, he said.
New workers are paired with veteran employees to help them get experience in a job where technology is regularly changing.
With the type of equipment they deal with, safety is also crucial.
“In this industry, you really don’t get a second chance,” Meyers said.
Work can also be stressful and demanding, working 16-hour days after storms or other events that cause major power failures.