Powering Strong Communities

Students Learn About Role of Lineworkers at Wisconsin’s Sun Prairie Utilities

Jacob Dowden and Hayden Shefchik, lineworker apprentices at Wisconsin public power utility Sun Prairie Utilities, recently visited middle schools in Sun Prairie where they not only explained to students what they do at the utility, but also gave those students the opportunity to consider pursuing an eventual career in public power.

In an interview with Public Power Current, Dowden and Shefchik detailed the career paths they took that resulted in their current positions at Sun Prairie Utilities.

Dowden initially went to college to study criminal justice and during high school and college he worked for the school district in Sun Prairie in grounds facility maintenance. Dowden joined the utility in a custodial position to get his foot in the door. “During the interview process, I was looking for opportunities for advancement from within,” he said.

Dowden subsequently worked for the utility’s water department “and I was there for a few years.” He then went to work for another utility where he became a lineman and then he returned to Sun Prairie Utilities about six months ago, which is also around the time that Shefchik joined the utility.

“Leading up to graduation in high school, I had really no plan” for post-graduation, Shefchik said. He did have a couple of ideas for next steps in his life including “going to line school for nine months” or going to a local university.

He wound up going to a college in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to study physical therapy. But at the end of his sophomore year, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the U.S. Faced with student loans and a shift to online courses, Shefchik decided to switch gears in his life and attend Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

After graduating from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, he worked for a contractor company in Madison, Wisconsin, and then moved to Sun Prairie where he joined the utility.

Shefchik and Dowden recently visited Sun Prairie’s three middle schools where they spoke with seventh grade students.

photo courtesy of Sun Prairie Utilities

“In seventh grade, I had no idea what” lineworkers do, Dowden said. “I just knew whenever I plugged something into the wall, it turned on.” So Shefchik and Dowden talked about where electricity comes from and “what we do on a daily basis” explaining, for example, that if there is a power outage, “we’re there to fix it.”

Shefchik noted that they brought two folding tables where they placed equipment that they use including hot line tools and climbing belts. Students also had the opportunity to check out a utility bucket truck and try on rubber gloves and hard hats worn by lineworkers.

photo courtesy of Sun Prairie Utilities

Meeting with students can also plant the idea of their potentially becoming lineworkers at a later point in their lives.

“We went through our process of basically how we got to where we’re at,” Dowden said. “No one really writes out a plan for you in that sense.”

And the difference in ages and backgrounds of Shefchik and Dowden shows students that lineworkers come from all walks of life, Shefchik said.

photo courtesy of Sun Prairie Utilities

Sun Prairie Utilities is an electric and water utility that provides services to approximately 34,900 residents and businesses, mostly within the city limits of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.