Make us your home page

Tampa Electric's apprentice lineman program catches eye of U.S. labor secretary

TAMPA — Scaling 45-foot poles with little more than a utility belt and soaring even higher in a cherry picker seem hard enough tasks for an apprentice.

Now try it under the watchful eyes of your company's senior executives and U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, who visited Tampa Electric's electrical lineman training facility Thursday.

"Man, I was watching you," Perez told 26-year-old Jonathan Sanchez after he raced up the utility pole with a 45-pound belt around his waist as if he was just climbing a flight of stairs. "You're fast."

The program was everything Perez, the nation's jobs chief since July, said he had hoped to see on his trip across the country to find programs that train people for middle-class jobs.

Apprentices such as Sanchez train to maintain and repair electrical power transmission systems and electrical equipment. After the program, they begin earning about $70,000 a year plus the potential for overtime.

The state's third-largest investor-owned utility, Tampa Electric serves 678,000 customers and employs 2,400 workers, including 120 linemen. It is owned by Tampa's TECO Energy.

More than 80 percent of the current linemen received their training through the apprenticeship program. "It really is not only a model for this area but a model for the nation," Perez said.

Florida, Perez said, has made positive gains in job creation. That's one reason he made the Tampa Bay area one of his stops.

Since peaking near 12 percent in 2010, Florida's unemployment rate has steadily fallen. It was 7 percent in August, according to the most recent data available.

Perez quizzes Sanchez after he climbs down the pole.

How long have you been doing this? Six months, Sanchez says.

What's your biggest challenge? Memorizing everything, Sanchez says and chuckles.

Tampa Electric's program has been a mainstay for training and developing solid middle-class jobs since 1978, including for military veterans such as Robert Tolbert. He joined the utility in 2006 through the apprentice program.

Now a substation technical trainer for the apprentices, Tolbert said trainees also can earn college credit along with good pay by completing the program.

"There's a chance to make a lot of money doing something you enjoy," Tolbert said.

"Apprenticeships are gateways to the middle class," Perez said.

The secretary said his department is working with employers and community colleges to expand such opportunities.

"Thanks for letting me watch you," Perez told the group of about 10 apprentices Thursday. "I've learned a lot here today."

Ivan Penn can be reached at or (727) 892-2332.

Tampa Electric's apprentice lineman program catches eye of U.S. labor secretary 11/14/13 [Last modified: Thursday, November 14, 2013 8:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  2. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood


    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  3. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa


    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  4. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county


    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.
  5. Honda denies covering up dangers of Takata air bags


    With just a third of the defective Takata air bag inflators replaced nationwide, the corporate blame game of who will take responsibility — and pay — for the issue has shifted into another gear.

    Honda is denying covering up dangers of Takata air bags. | [Scott McIntyre, New York Times]