Looking at Knox Countian Dalton Ferguson, it is easy to guess how he spends his days. Broad shoulders, tan lines, and calloused hands are telltale signs of a life lived outdoors doing laborious work.
“I grew up in the farm life. I’ve always known what hard work’s about,” Ferguson says as he swivels in a chair in the offices of KCEOC Community Action Partnership in Barbourville. “I was born on a farm, so I’ve farmed ever since I could walk, I guess you could say.”
Ferguson may have grown up as a farmer, but his dream job was something his father had inspired in him to do.
“My dad’s always done line work,” he says, adding that he’d always planned to follow in his father’s footsteps to become an electrical lineman. “It’s outdoors, and I’ve never been an indoor person, and it pays good money. It’s hard labor work. I’ve always been used to that.”
During his senior year of high school, Ferguson heard from his high school librarian about a lineman training program offered through KCEOC at Somerset Community College, but didn’t think much more about it until his graduation in May 2016.
KCEOC provides Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) services in Knox County under contract with the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP). Those services include programs for adults, dislocated workers, and for in-school and out-of-school youth who may need assistance honing skills such as résumé building or networking with local employers.
Ferguson called the KCEOC office and set up an appointment with expert career advisor Ali Hill to see if he could get enrolled in the program with KCEOC’s help.
“She explained everything well to me and that helped a lot. She worked everything up for me,” Ferguson remembers. “I didn’t have to worry about anything. She always answered my questions.”
Due to a conflict, Ferguson had to skip the first available lineman class open to him, but enthusiastically began classes in February 2017. Three short months later, he was a graduate with a full-time job with Bowling Energy in Red Bird, Ky.
“The school was good; it’s basically a climbing school, so you’re going to learn how to climb and you’re going to learn the basics of working when you get up there because climbing a pole is just the start of it,” he says.
Ferguson says he’s thrilled that he was able to land his dream job with the help of KCEOC.
“I love it. I wouldn’t want to do anything else,” Ferguson gushes. “It’s just kind of rewarding whenever you turn somebody’s lights on and they’re sitting there—they’ve had their power off for two weeks—when they say, ‘Thank you.’ I mean, that just makes it all.”
Ferguson was able to feel those rewards tenfold when he and his company were sent to Florida for two weeks to help with recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma hit the state in September 2017.
“This hurricane, that was the most linemen coming to work and help after a hurricane in history, and that was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had as far as line work,” Ferguson says. “You go down there and you see something different every day, you’re going to do something different every day.”
Irma devastated much of the state, leveling whole neighborhoods and causing flooding long after the storm had passed. Most days Ferguson and his crew worked 16 hours, and days could sometimes stretch to the 21-hour mark, he says.
Looking back now, Ferguson says he couldn’t see himself having gone on a different career path, and he credits KCEOC for helping him get to where he’s supposed to be in life.
“If anyone in this region is wanting to work—not even just the lineman program—I would recommend this to anybody, I really would,” he says. “It helped me follow my dream, and I’m sitting here with a good job because KCEOC helped me get there.”
EKCEP, a nonprofit workforce development agency headquartered in Hazard, Ky., serves the citizens of 23 Appalachian coalfield counties. The agency provides an array of workforce development services, administers the Hiring Our Miners Everyday (H.O.M.E.) program for dislocated coal miners and their spouses, and is the White House-designated lead organization for the federal TechHire designation for Eastern Kentucky. Learn more about us at http://www.ekcep.org, http://www.jobsight.org and http://www.facebook.com/ekcep.