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Alliant Generating Buzz, Safety

MARSHALLTOWN, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - What does it take to keep your lights? A lot more than you might think.

Alliant Energy wants to get people informed about -- and interested in -- its four-year electric journeyman apprenticeship program. Faced with an aging workforce, the utility provider says it wants to find more people up for the challenge of the job.

The Bureau of Labor statistics estimates that jobs for electricians will grow by 20 percent by the year 2022.

Electric training coordinator R.J. Van Roekel demonstrated one of the most challenging aspects of the job on Tuesday, as he strapped into gaffing spikes and safety gear, and climbed up an electric pole. Van Roekel used to climb without safety gear, but said the process is now much safer.

"Anybody who has climbed has had a scary moment," he said. "Some of them have been life-ending careers -- broken leg, broken hip. So it's not for everybody."

The apprenticeship program may be difficult, said journeyman Gaylen Dayton, but it is ultimately a rewarding process and career field.

"To teach somebody how to properly put (the safety gear) on, get them on (a pole), get them to climb, get their rhythm and everything, it's just kind of rewarding after you see those guys go through four years of schooling," Dayton said. "Not everybody can do it."

It is for those who want a challenge. When journeymen are 50 feet or more in the air, it takes a tremendous amount of concentration to change out a broken insulator, for instance.

The same goes for a tradesmen trying to fix a downed wire, and it's why Alliant wants people to stay away from them in emergencies. Van Roekel demonstrated the danger of touching a down wire using a raw chicken leg in a phase setup in an Alliant garage.

Touching the wire, the chicken leg burst into flames, and Van Roekel said the electricity was actually cooking it from the inside-out. The same would happen to a human.

"That's why we have our job briefings, our safety rules, our (electrical operating procedures), everything that we do to keep our job safe. We respect electricity," Van Roekel said.

It's the reason Alliant wants to bring in more people who are up for the challenge.

"What makes it all worthwhile is when you're (working) on a storm and some lady comes out in her parka and says, 'I would make you cookies, I would bake you cookies if you could get my lights on,'" said Dayton. "I think it's very rewarding. I would recommend anyone into it."
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