It took some reconfiguring and plenty of patience, but ultimately, even a global pandemic couldn’t stop a class of pole-climbing electrical workers at Los Angeles Trade Tech College from reaching their summit.
Back in March, the popular power lineman training class, Electric 601, was interrupted mid-semester when the university shut down in-person operations due to COVID-19. The 600-hour class teaches students pole framing and electrical theory as well as plenty of hands-on skills. At the end of the class, students receive their pole climbing certification and – in many cases – they immediately get hired by agencies such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power or the City of Glendale, according to instructor Anthony Sylvers.
The three sections had more than 120 students who were left in limbo when the school converted to distance learning. The class had covered much of the academic content, but had not yet moved out to Trade Tech’s outdoor “pole orchard” to complete the climbing experience.
Sylvers was in regular contact with his supervisor, Guild Executive Vice President William Elarton-Selig about how and when the class could continue. As Elarton-Selig negotiated with school administration, the students were contacted to gauge their interest in coming back and most said they were onboard. The summer months drifted by, and ultimately it was determined that the students could return to the pole orchard starting August 3 and spend the next few weeks finishing the class.
“If you were to ask me, ‘Was this program successful because of what Bill did?’ Oh, hell yeah,” said Sylvers. “It was a very challenging time. I honestly didn’t think it was going to happen.”
Eventually, the class was split into two sections for safety reasons, with Sylvers covering Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and another instructor covering Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Approximately 114 of the original 123 students came back. In order to return to the class, they had to have experienced no symptoms of COVID-19, had no exposure to friends or family who had the virus, and could not have been out of the country over the previous 14 days. Additional cleaning and social distancing protocols were also implemented.
When the class resumed, everything proceeded without incident. A group of the students – wearing protective masks of course – were even captured climbing poles by a Los Angeles Times photographer for a story titled “Coronavirus Surge Turns the Southland Inside Out.”
“So far, everything’s working out like it’s supposed to be working out,” Sylvers said. “We’re all following the guidelines that everybody wants us to follow.”
The final testing is scheduled to take place on Aug. 31st and a fall semester class will ramp up this week as well, most likely with fewer students than the class would normally hold.