Companion to the Trades

Extensive training offerings aim to bolster all facets of the power industry

Extensive training offerings aim to bolster all facets of the power industry

Northwest Lineman College’s first graduating class. Shane Porter is on the far left, Gerald McKie and Aaron Howell are on the far right.

One spring day in 1992, Gerald McKie poked Aaron Howell on the shoulder and said, “We should start our own program, Bud.” At the time, McKie was head of Boise State University’s Electrical Lineworker Program. Howell was a former lineworker for PG&E and a graduate of McKie’s program in the 1980s. While pursuing a business degree at Boise State, Howell helped out McKie with lineworker classes.

More than a year later, the suggestion became reality as Northwest Lineman College launched its first class on August 4, 1993. They had three instructors—McKie, Howell, and Shane Porter—and 22 students from five states. “I remember thinking that if, by the time I retire, the companies in the northwest are familiar with and utilize us, we would have really achieved something special,” said Howell.

Construction of the Idaho campus.


What a difference 30 years will make. Instead of three employees, NLC now has more than 300. Instead of 20 pre-apprentice students per term, NLC now graduates hundreds of students annually across each of its four campuses. And the company’s name reaches far beyond its original footprint in southwest Idaho: Hundreds of power and construction companies throughout the United States—and even internationally—use NLC’s curriculum and employ its graduates.

“Growing up I wanted to be able to make a living, so I didn’t have to rely on anyone. I have had an amazing career. I want to show my kids what hard work can do for you.”

Darcy Turner Weimer
Journeyman Lineworker, San Miguel Power Association
NLC Graduate

For NLC, pre-apprentice power was just the beginning. Crew leadership, safety certifications, technical educator training, courses in telecom and natural gas distribution, and other industry programs are deployed to companies large and small. NLC pursues its goal of being the long-term training companion for the trades by offering the following opportunities.


The 15-week Electrical Lineworker Program (ELP) introduces students to the power delivery industry. Graduates are prepped to be 1) highly qualified for initial employment, 2) highly successful in completing future training programs, and 3) prepared to pursue a long, rewarding career in the power industry. The Utility Lineworker Program (ULP) is a 13-week pre-apprenticeship program for students who have already secured employment in the industry. Both programs offer foundational training in tools and techniques—along with the technical supporting knowledge.

“I was looking for a better career, as the path I had chosen in the fire department turned out to be hit or miss depending on state politics. My grandfather was a telephone lineman in Oregon and always told me to quit trying to be a hero and go make a good living. I chose NLC because it was the best in the country.”

Cory Johannsen
Journeyman Lineworker, San Diego Gas & Electric
NLC Graduate


The Lineworker Apprenticeship Program (LAP) is a great choice for companies seeking formalized apprenticeship training and certification. The LAP includes pre-campus study assignments followed by two weeks of onsite, instructor-led, hands-on training and skills verification each year for four years. The Power Delivery Program (PDP) is a self-paced, distance-learning alternative featuring workbooks and training videos. Both programs can be used to obtain journeyman certification through the U.S. Department of Labor.


The multibillion-dollar telecom industry employs more than 50,000 U.S. lineworkers. NLC ran a standalone Telecommunications Lineworker Program for years. Beginning in 2023, components of this program will be incorporated into ELP. The graduates of the “power” program will also have training in aerial and underground telecom infrastructure.


Natural gas production and use are at an all-time high. To support the gas industry’s deep need for skilled employees, NLC operated a training program for natural gas technicians. This has evolved into mobile assessment-and-certification services, and hands-on training that bring professional educators and training equipment right to the customer. (See GasTech Mobile Training Lab Solves Immediate Needs for further information.)

“After graduating, I worked out in the metroplex of Dallas-Fort Worth doing mostly distribution work. … I just had a kiddo, bought a house, and settled down. I’m up next for a foreman spot and looking forward to running my own crew.”

Tony Gemini
Journeyman Lineworker, Bobcat Electrical
NLC Graduate


Developed in partnership with Quanta Services, this is a new approach to reducing work-related incidents and injuries. The Capacity Model shifts the focus away from simply preventing mistakes to also building the systems and capacity for mistakes to happen safely. NLC continues to expand the program offerings to fit different roles in the industry.


Construction workers are stepping into crew leadership roles earlier in their careers. For crews and companies to succeed, they need competent, professional leaders at every level. NLC’s crew leadership courses on various topics help improve the workplace across the front line.

“When I started at Mears after [NLC] training I had a much stronger foundation than most of the other techs. I attribute a lot of my success to the hands-on learning that was provided in the program.”

Hassan Kolko
General Foreman, Mears Group, Inc.
NLC Graduate


NLC delivers a wide range of advanced training services for utilities and construction companies anytime and anywhere. Topics include aerial-lift and pole-top rescue, advanced transformers, rubber glove certification, working in elevated positions, and more. Mobile TransBanker® training labs offer the most realistic, safest transformer training in the industry. These self-powered labs can be delivered to the service center or the job site, for however long is needed to meet the customer’s training needs.


The Professional Technical Educator (PTE) Program prepares craft trainers of any trade to be the world’s best at their job. The PTE Program is organized into four levels, each equivalent to one year’s worth of training time (2,000 hours). Each level involves coursework with clear learning outcomes supported by formal training materials. Candidates undergo skill evaluations conducted by themselves, their supervisors, and a review board of educational experts. Graduates qualify as U.S. Department of Labor–certified technical educators. (See NLC Launches Professional Technical Educator Program for further information.)

“Northwest Lineman College (NLC) is a unique organization within the utility industry. While there are other line schools around the country, NLC stands alone at the top by providing individuals with a springboard into the industry and employers with a very willing and able workforce…a large percentage arrive on the job site with a massive head-start on the path to obtaining their Journeyman Lineman certificate. I am a proud NLC alumnus and work every day to give graduates an opportunity to build a career in this great industry.”

Gilbert Gerhardt
Chief Operating Officer, Probst Electric
NLC Graduate


Relevant. Professional. Productive. NLC training provides what’s best for the student—and what the industry needs. Northwest Lineman College has come a long way from the rented lumber yard and the single line truck picked up at auction. Now this once-unassuming educational institution delivers top-notch training, skilled labor, and a safer work culture to job sites nationwide. As NLC’s retired SVP of research and development (and Lineman Hall of Fame inductee) Alan Drew liked to say, “Imagine the possibilities!”

The Handline Magazine
This story was originally published in Northwest Lineman College’s The Handline Magazine, Summer 2022 issue.