Safety and training program celebrates 45 years of excellence
Training quality and diversity has helped program grow to be one of the best
Every job has safety concerns, but working as a line technician has more risks than most. They must work in inclement weather and dangerous surroundings. Safety is always a top priority.
In 1973, talks began about forming a lineman apprenticeship between Clark, Harrison and Southeastern cooperatives. By October 1974, Board of Directors Chairman Dewy Barnett appointed the first Hoosier Energy Apprenticeship, Training and Safety (HEATS) program. The first official class took place on April 12, 1975, with Joe Robb as the first apprenticeship training instructor.
In February 1975, standards were amended to include females in the training, but the first women did not enroll until December of 1987.
As word about the training began to spread, the program grew; not just in numbers, but also in class offerings. The first metering technicians graduated in 1995. The first substation technician class graduated in 2015. Line, Meter, and Substation indentured apprentices all have to complete 576 hours of classroom instruction and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training. Indentured graduates also take four college-level courses to earn an Associates of Applied Sciences degree from Ivy Tech.
While the program started off with the intent to make sure that all cooperative employees were properly trained in safety measures for their jobs, it has grown into much more today. With the opening of the Franklin Training Center in 2003, the program became even more popular and word began to spread about the superiority of the training. The apprenticeship is now open to industry workers across the state.
“We are always looking to improve our training facilities. Our members and our apprentices deserve the best we can provide,” said Dave Helton, Hoosier Energy Safety and Training Instructor. “With the addition of the energized underground training yard, we now have the capabilities and opportunity to further ensure the safety of our member employees.”
The Franklin Training Center currently leases out office space to the statewide organization Indiana Electric Cooperatives. The group also conducts many training sessions at the facility. When it was first built, the center was utilized one week a month on average. Now, the center offers training sessions multiple times a month and has employees there on a daily basis.
“The facility offers in-depth training in a safe environment that allows for one-on-one classroom and field work,” said Bob Richhart, Chief Technology Officer and pioneer in the HEATS program.
Because of Richhart’s passion for safety and proper employee training, he was instrumental in meeting the growing needs of the members and made the HEATS program become one of the cornerstones of our cooperative employee development program.
The future of the program
The safety and training department is always looking for ways to improve for the future. In 2019, based on requests and input from member-cooperatives, a new class was offered – Member Service Representatives (MSR) HEATS program. More than 50 participants signed up for the program. This program is offered to both member co-ops and Hoosier Energy employees. The framework for the MSR HEATS class was approved by the Indiana Department of Labor. At the end of this two-and-a-half-year program, participants with be awarded with an apprenticeship certificate.
As a true accolade to the program, the 2019 graduating class was the biggest to date with 35 graduates. There have been 678 graduates since the program began.
“Hoosier Energy is proud to offer this comprehensive safety and training program, not only to our members, but to organizations across the state,” said Chris Blunk, Vice President of Corporate Services. “Our goal is to make sure all participants receive the proper education to do a quality job and arrive home safely each night.”