KCEOC Helps Knox Countian Matthew Smith Become Lineman and Assist in Hurricane Irma Recovery Efforts

Imagine waking up every morning knowing that your office space could give you a completely new view every day. Knox Countian Matthew Smith, a B Lineman with Bowling Energy in Harlan, Ky., says that’s what his new job has offered him—a job he got thanks to a training program offered through KCEOC Community Action —and he can’t believe how lucky he is.

Of course, Smith didn’t start out working in his dream job.

“I was working for my dad fulltime doing gutter work and windows, whatever really,” Smith explains as he sits in the offices of the KCEOC Community Action Agency in Barbourville, Ky.

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.

Smith spent his senior year of high school working with his father and trying to save up money, but the going was rough. He says he didn’t know what sort of job opportunities would be available that he would want or be able to do.

That’s when he heard his classmates talking about a lineman training program offered through KCEOC at the Somerset Community College. Smith admitted, though, that he didn’t consider going into the program until after graduation.

“I thought it’d be exciting, a new thing to learn and just get out and do something different for a while,” he says.

A few months after his graduation, Smith says he made an appointment to speak with expert career advisor Ali Hill at KCEOC to see if he could get into the training program and, if not, what other options he might have.

“We talked about a couple of career options,” Hill says. “We talked about CDLs at one point, but he was really interested in the lineman program.”

Hill was able to get Smith into the next class, which Smith graduated from in April 2017.

“I expected the class to be a lot worse than it was, climbing and stuff,” Smith says, chuckling. “Once I got to climbing, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It taught me quite a bit; I learned a lot.”

After graduation, Smith says he didn’t immediately get a job, although that was not necessarily a fault of the job market.

“It was a few weeks before I found a job, around two months, but I really wasn’t pushing for one because I didn’t have my CDLs (commercial driver’s license) yet,” Smith says. “They really help you get a job. It’s hard to get one without your CDLs.”

By June, though, Smith had passed his CDL test and was happily accepting a temporary position with Bowling Energy.

“When I started on that crew, I was only supposed to be there four months, and then they were going to send me to Cincinnati,” Smith explains.

Plans changed, however, when Smith was quickly promoted to a C lineman, a permanent position on the crew, and then a few months later to a B lineman.

“It would have been a lot different without taking the class,” Smith says. “The older guys, they had to learn to climb on the job. That would have been rough. Learning the little things we did in class really helped us take off and learn and work faster.”

“I’m glad they had this lineman program. It would have been rough starting out with nothing,” he adds.

Smith had the opportunity to really change his work view in September 2017 when he and his company were sent to Florida for two weeks to help with recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma hit the state.

“We worked quite a bit. There were just so many trees blown over and debris on the power lines that we had to move and fix all that,” Smith remembers, adding that like with everything else working as a lineman, it was a great learning experience. “Seeing how the lines were built differently, meeting new people—I learned a lot from it.”

Looking back, Smith is the first to admit that without KCEOC and the lineman program he’d likely still be working for his father, not being able to make the kind of salary he’s able to now as a lineman.

“I wouldn’t have as much as I have now and stuff paid off like I do now,” he says. “I’ve got plenty of money in my pocket now.”

“I’m glad I heard about the program,” he adds. “It was a good decision—you’ve just got to push yourself to go with it.”

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.