Dariyn Choates receives his certificate of completion at a Lineworker Scholarship Program graduation ceremony held in March. Photo courtesy of Sacramento Municipal Utility District

When Dariyn Choates found out about the Lineworker Scholarship Program run by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245, he knew it was a chance to get closer to his goal of becoming a lineworker.

The Lineworker Scholarship Program offers participants a mix of hands-on experience along with classroom instruction to prepare them for jobs across the industry. Photo courtesy of Sacramento Municipal Utility District

"When I got the email from SMUD, I decided, 'Let me challenge myself.' And that's what I did. I busted my butt," said Choates, who had previously worked for SMUD as a solar installer.

Choates was one of nearly 30 graduates from the program's inaugural class and the keynote speaker at a graduation ceremony in March. A former college football player, he's no stranger to physically demanding work, or working as part of a team.

"I like jobs where I can be active," he said. "I like having a tough job to complete."

Despite his aptitude for teamwork and physical challenges, Choates said that having football on his resume wasn't opening any doors to the good-paying career he was looking for. The Lineworker Scholarship Program was his opportunity to change that.

"Before, it was hard to compete. I'm a lot more confident now," Choates said.

Choates and his classmates spent every Saturday and Sunday for a month learning foundational training in pole-climbing techniques, proper tool usage, safety protocols, equipment installation on wood poles and ground work. With an emphasis on hands-on learning and real-world experience, the participants graduated with a competitive edge for linework apprenticeship programs. They also got classroom instruction and help with interview preparation, as well as a stipend and a certificate of completion.

"The amount I learned was incredible," Choates said, adding that he was impressed by how knowledgeable all the lineworker trainers were. "They made a lot of people want to be lineworkers."

The program, which Local 1245 Business Manager Bob Dean describes as a boot camp, came about when he and SMUD CEO Paul Lau got together to look at ways of expanding the number of opportunities available for getting into the trade.

"Everybody is phenomenally excited about the opportunity," Dean said, noting that while a lot of participants want to be lineworkers, the program prepares people for jobs across the industry. "Training without employment is useless."

While most of this graduating class will be able to get jobs with SMUD, Dean said the goal is to eventually make it a statewide program that would be paid for by California workforce funding. The inaugural class was funded jointly by Local 1245 and SMUD.

"This was the proof of concept," he said.

For Choates, his objective is to get hired this year as a lineworker, and he's already been in talks with SMUD and another electrical company.

"One of my favorite things is that there's so much more to learn," he said. "I also like the aspect of helping people and how lineworkers are first responders. To be able to do all that as your career, while also making a good wage, that's the end goal.