Energized by a semester of climbing 50 feet above the ground and working with live wires, on Monday 22 men celebrated their graduation from the Verdugo Power Academy and looked ahead to a lifetime atop power poles.
A ceremony at Brand Library drew nearly 100 well-wishers and representatives from the three sponsors of the program, Glendale Community College, Glendale Water & Power and the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board. The graduates completed 600 hours of training, including 200 hours above the ground, in an all-day, every-day semester of preparing for a career change.
“This is an important job,” Anita Quinones Gabrielian, president of the Glendale Community College Board of Trustees, said during the ceremony. “They absolutely do keep the lights on for us in California.”
The program originated several years ago when Glendale Water & Power Assistant General Manager Ramon Abueg approached college officials about his difficulties finding qualified candidates to be linemen. Applicants tended to lack community ties and move on to other jobs quickly, said Scott Rubke, chairman of the college’s Technical Division.
Glendale Community College launched the classes, with Glendale Water & Power workers serving as instructors and the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board helping fund the program through federal stimulus dollars.
Monday’s class of 22 was the fourth set of graduates. Twenty of them also earned their climbing certificates.
Richard Eun, one of two graduates to speak at the ceremony, recounted how he injured himself in a 15-foot fall, but was inspired by classmates to return.
“In life, it doesn’t matter how hard you fall,” Eun said. “What matters is how fast you get up, dust yourself off and move forward.”
Another graduate, Sean Brinlee, emphasized the camaraderie of the group and the dedication of instructors.
At a reception afterward, where photos showed the graduates tying knots on the ropes that would support their weight or working on the poles, graduate Angel Topete said learning to climb the poles “was like learning how to walk all over again.”
“Getting up there is one thing, and reaching out with both hands, left and right, and doing the work was another,” he said.
Genrik Nazaryan was one of several graduates who said he thought about quitting, but was encouraged by others to stick with it.
“The hardest part was getting up there and looking down,” Nazaryan said.
The tall task now is finding a job. Ellie McMullin, a Verdugo Workforce Investment Board job counselor, said 68% of graduates from the first three Verdugo Power Academy classes had landed jobs in the field. She said the center will host a job forum with local utilities next month, and encouraged graduates to position themselves for success.
“The power is truly yours,” Glendale Community College Trustee Tony Tartaglia told the graduates. “It is in your hands.”
FOR THE RECORD: This corrects an earlier version that incorrectly stated that the climbing certificates would preclude further apprenticeship.