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Retirement Wave Pushes FirstEnergy To Offer Free Tuition

FirstEnergy utility workes repair a electric line damaged by a tree limb.
FirstEnergy utility workes repair a electric line damaged by a tree limb.

FirstEnergy is offering to pay tuition and fees for some students to attend Stark State College, if they’re interested in working with electricity – outdoors.

The company’s Power Systems Institute is a two-year program at several community colleges, including Stark State. The training could lead to work with the utility company as lineman or at a substation, which can often be in tight spaces, or it can involve being high up on steel structures.

FirstEnergy spokesman Mark Durbin says one of the reasons the program started was to find new talent for the company.

“We saw that when you look at the overall average age of our utility line force, it was aging," Durbin said. "And how do you get ahead of that curve? Well, you try to staff up in advance of all those retirements.”

Durbin adds that the trainees can also benefit from working alongside the more experienced linemen. And many of them like the physical challenge of climbing poles and working outdoors every day.

The Akron-based company held an information session at the college on Saturday. Tim Dodge, a high school senior from East Palestine, stopped by because he’s interested in the program.

“My dad is an electrical engineer, and I always was kind of fascinated by that work," Dodge said. "I’m interested in the substation work because there’s two sides to it: you have the line work – which is more of outside and you’re moving around more – just learning about electricity and how it works.”

The next information session is Wednesday night in Springfield.

Kabir Bhatia joined WKSU as a Reporter/Producer and weekend host in 2010. A graduate of Hudson High School, he received his Bachelor's from Kent State University. While a Kent student, Bhatia served as a WKSU student assistant, working in the newsroom and for production.