KANSAS CITY, Mo.— Spencer Burk has never left his home state of Nebraska, but the veteran lineman with Custer Public Power District knows that lineworker priorities are universal, thanks to a new professional development opportunity.

During a breakout session at NRECA’s Safety Leadership Summit, Burk described his experiences in attending the inaugural Lineworker, Safety, Training and Leadership Conference for mid-career journeymen.

“What really amazed me as a small-town country kid from Nebraska is that it doesn’t matter if you work in Kansas, Nebraska, South Carolina, North Carolina or Florida. Everybody has the same concerns across the board…rubber gloving, tailgates, setting up safely, grounding.”

Burk was one of 66 journeymen linemen attending last year's event in Omaha.

Sponsored by Quad State Instructors (QSI), a group of electric safety professionals in 27 states, the conference targets lineworkers with five to 20 years of experience, like Burk, who was promoted to foreman after the event. Attendees are nominated by QSI members, and they must show leadership potential to be future foremen or safety leaders. The event fills a much-needed gap in professional development between the apprentice and management stages, said breakout speakers.

“In between, you’re really a leader at all times with your crew,” said Larry Oetken, a QSI member and director of job training and safety at the Nebraska Rural Electric Association in Lincoln. “There are some who want to move up the ladder in their careers. So, we need to provide these journeymen with opportunities that allow them to succeed.”

These opportunities are important in a lineworker’s career, because serious injuries and fatalities are occurring at younger ages, in the mid-30s, according to data from Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange.

“We need to mold them and start leadership engagement early in the process so that when they become foremen, they’ll have the skillset to step in that leadership role," said Steve Savon, a safety and regulatory consultant for Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives in Columbus. “The conference is an opportunity to get ahold of these individuals who can make a difference when they go home.”

Presenters are safety experts from QSI member co-ops and statewide associations, who over three days cover topics like grounding protection, rubber goods care and capacitor safety. Participants also hear from national safety experts on topics like dog bite prevention and dealing with difficult people.

A highlight for North Central Public Power District’s Sam Davidson was a session run by leadership consultant Charlie Cartwright.

“He talked about looking at things from other people’s perspectives,” said Davidson, a journeyman lineman at the Creighton, Nebraska-based PPD. “Whether it’s an apprentice or the CEO, everyone looks at things differently. It was very eye-opening.”

Organizers cap attendance at about 70 lineworkers to foster camaraderie among participants and to ensure they get a personal, meaningful experience. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and attendees value the time spent networking with like-minded peers.

“I tried to share as much information as I could with all my coworkers and family,” said Tristan Bettenhausen, an inaugural participant from Cuming County Public Power District in West Point, Nebraska. “It was just life-changing, and now I try to better myself every day in leadership and in safety.”

Organizers hope that participants can apply their newfound knowledge to help influence safety cultures back home.

“The goal is to help these future leaders understand more about their craft as well as the art of dealing with people,” Oetken said. “And if they can take that back to their cooperatives and share that with the other linemen, then we're going to effect long-term culture change and really see positive results in the future.”