Jose Gonzalez was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Growing up on a Caribbean island, he knew his home was susceptible to hurricanes, but that knowledge didn’t prepare him for the shock that struck the island when Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989. Jose was just a kid when he saw the Category 3 hurricane decimate the island’s power; and in that moment, like the island that he called home, Jose was powerless. The power went off, and he and his family would be stuck wondering how long it would take for it to restore.
Later, lineworkers arrived on the island and started repairing electrical wires and restoring power to the island. He saw these workers risk their lives every day to fix a community in which they didn’t even live; it was an inspiration, he says.
“You see these guys going out there and working hours and hours and just still going, and you wonder how they get this energy just to come out and work 13 hours, 15 hours just to restore power for the families that need it,” Gonzalez said. “That kind of inspired me a whole lot to move forward towards working for APS, and seeing that logo on the island, I thought, ‘Well, if they can travel this far, I’ll go along with it.’”
Gonzalez is a recent recipient of the Lineworker Scholarship, a program launched by APS and nonprofit organization Friendly House designed to help recipients attend a lineman certificate program at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. The scholarships total $50,000 and were awarded to nine aspiring linemen across the state, helping to pilot a more diverse electrical lineman workforce.
“The scholarship is going to help me out a whole lot,” Gonzalez continues. “I never thought there would be a kind of scholarship like this; you’re kind of saving your pennies and hopefully you can get in and pay for the school, but [I’m] taking advantage of it and thankful for APS that they are giving that type of scholarship.”
Pursuing a career as a lineworker isn’t glamorous. Every day, linemen risk their lives facing new dangers, Gonzales notes. However, it’s worth the risk knowing that he’s helping the community and fighting for people in need. Jonathan Enlund, another scholarship recipient, recalls a devastating flood in Flagstaff and his longing to be there to help.
“An event in Flagstaff that happened last year was a thousand-year old flood that covered 52 inches or so in an hour, and took down trees down the mountainside, was blocking driveways, flipped over transformers,” Enlund recalls. “That was really when I thought, I would love to get a call from out here to fix something like this; that would be awesome.”
Businesses are becoming increasingly reliant on energy sources and the facilities that use it, such as data centers, manufacturing plants and storage systems. And at the civilian level, citizens are becoming increasingly reliant on energy; in fact, dependence on energy is as simple as the need to charge a phone or laptop.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that since 1970, there have been an average of six hurricanes annually in the Atlantic Ocean alone. These, in addition to other sporadic natural disasters, have the capability of derailing businesses and everyday citizens’ days at any point. Lineworkers have the demanding task of minimizing that harm, regardless of its severity.
“I think we all are seeing the global changes and the global disasters — all the stuff that’s coming in and happening seems really excessive. Where we are as a society right now is everybody depends on energy. Everybody’s got to have electricity,” said Jerry Mendoza, interim president and CEO of Friendly House. “It’s so critical to everything right now, including our communications. Think about it, you can’t charge your cell phone, and you’re stuck. That restoration of power is key. Once again, we see the need all over the place. So the demand is definitely there.”
The line of work is intellectually demanding, as well. Through the certificate program at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, students must learn electrical engineering and meticulous safety practices in addition to the physically taxing aspects of the job.
Enlund explains that even the hardest parts of the program are made easier through the accommodating structure of the program. He mentions that having the same teacher and classroom and going directly from one pertinent task to another helps him learn efficiently, especially when learning more challenging curriculum. Mendoza explains that Friendly House ensures that the scholarship recipients are supported throughout the entire process.
“To help them get there, the other thing too, is the support services, and that’s where we’re providing them with a case manager,” Mendoza said. “We’re helping them with registration, we’re help them find places to live, we’re helping them get their books and stuff. We’re helping them manage that because, for some of them, it might be their first time dealing with the educational system, and they don’t know what to do or what has to happen, so we’ve got case managers that are actually going to be with them making sure they get through.”
Enlund admits that without the scholarship, he wouldn’t be in the program. Acquiring the funds while supporting oneself can be too cumbersome, even for the most hard-working individuals, he said. Once he passes the certification, he will be ready to apply for an APS pre-apprecentiship program, an entry-point into the lineman career. If hired for APS, he will be a third-generation employee at the company.
“Being out there, you see here in the U.S. that people are lining up just to go help,” Gonzalez said. “That’s one of the things that touches you the most is, you get to go out there and fight — other than military and first responders that live in the area — if you’re willing to work hard. That’s something I’m looking forward to.”