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Preparing for Real-Life Situations: Lazy Q Ranch trains pre-apprentices for line work

By Susan DeGrane | Dec 15, 2022
employees on poles
Line work has always been fraught with peril, and these days the stakes are higher than ever.

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Line work has always been fraught with peril, and these days the stakes are higher than ever.

Utility companies have come to expect that repairs and upgrades be done on live distribution lines to avoid overloading remaining lines and causing costly blackouts. They also don’t want time and energy wasted on scaling enormous transmission towers. In addition, lineworkers may be deposited by helicopter, and must make repairs while being held aloft.

These realities were given careful consideration at the Lazy Q Ranch in La Grange, Texas, where journey-level lineworkers train barehanded at 345 kilovolts and access transmission towers with helicopters.

Lazy Q’s 2,300-acre campus covers a variety of terrain and construction settings. It serves as a training ground for Quanta Services Inc., a Fortune 500 specialty construction contractor based in Houston that employs 50,000 and serves customers throughout the world.

A different approach

In carrying out its goal of “cultivating the best-trained workforce in North America,” Lazy Q Ranch employs a two-pronged approach. First, it simulates a variety of challenging real-life conditions. Second, it rotates in project managers, supervisors and active lineworkers to serve as instructors for six-month periods. 

“We have administrators, but we don’t hire full-time instructors because we want the training to stay fresh and in line with what’s being expected in the field,” said John Colson, who opened Lazy Q Ranch in 2015. 

The former chairman and CEO of Quanta merged four electrical services companies to create Quanta and took the company public in 1998. Today, annual revenues top $16 billion.

Earl C. “Duke” Austin Jr., president and CEO of Quanta, has dedicated much of his career to the Electrical Training Alliance to ensure it provides top-notch education and training.

Training for the future

“The skilled labor shortage is extreme at this time,” Colson said. “What we see coming in the electric utility industry with weather events and the need to upgrade infrastructure is going to require twice as much work as the last decade. And with baby boomers retiring, we’re not just going to be short a few hundred people. We’re going to be short tens of thousands of people.”

Lazy Q introduced a 15-week pre-­apprenticeship program in 2017, which covers the first three steps of the regular seven-step program taught by NECA-IBEW. Participants learn how to climb poles, dig holes, set poles and string wire. They also build a power line structure. 

Counting class fluctuations due to COVID-19, the program has graduated between 150 and 200 students per year. 

In fall 2020, Lazy Q began participating in the Veteran’s Electrical Entry Program designed by the Electrical Training Alliance to transition military service members and recently separated veterans to the civilian workforce. 

So far, 72 service members and veterans have graduated from Lazy Q’s pre-­apprenticeship program, and 59 are currently training. Quanta has already hired 97 of them, Colson said.

Electrical power training covers personal evaluation for line work, lead and cable splicing, equipotential bonding and grounding, XLP cable spicing, network systems, inductance conductor stringing, AUT technology, barehand work, hot sticking, LineMaster robotic arm use and helicopter operations. 

Lazy Q also trains on splicing paper-insulated lead cable, which Colson describes as a lost art. 

“There’s a tremendous amount of lead cable in downtown areas of older cities. It’s still functional and good, but when you tap into it with new cable, it requires special treatment,” he said.

Lazy Q’s communications training includes fiber splicing, underground directional drilling, inside build and microtrenching. Underground training is in high demand for Quanta’s California workers due to the push to bury electric utility lines to prevent fires, Colson said.

The campus features “bunkhouses” for 200, on-site power generation, substation labs, a helicopter pad and a simulated subdivision for residential work. It also serves as a site for research and development regarding new tools, equipment and techniques to improve efficiency and safety

“We’ve helped to develop hundreds of patents,” Colson said. “Considerable research effort went on here for development of our LineMaster robotic arm,” which enables lineworkers to handle energized wires with greater-than-human strength without electrocution risk. 

Lazy Q also opened a historic Line Worker Museum, which displays historic artifacts and photos related to the electrical industry and local history. 

Image courtesy of Quanta Services Inc.

About The Author

DeGrane is a Chicago-based freelance writer. She has covered electrical contracting, renewable energy, senior living and other industries with articles published in the Chicago Tribune, New York Times and trade publications. Reach her at [email protected].

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