Our latest “How did you get your Start in the Grid” features Dwayne Apple, former director of training for American Electric Power-Public Service Co. of Oklahoma and currently distribution dispatching manager at PSO’s Tulsa Energy Control Center. Apple talks about his four-decade career beginning as a lineman and later training his colleagues.
1. How did you get your start in the grid?
“In the early 1980’s, after graduating high school, I went to work for Lone Star Gas in Abilene, Texas. I was a utility construction worker, installing new gas lines in the West Texas area. When I was working on jobsites, I would see the Electric Linemen drive up with their knee high climbing boots and mirrored sunglasses (no safety glasses in those days) and watch them climb poles. I thought, “Man would that job be cool.” I put in my application with West Texas Utilities, and for the next three years, I went to their operations service center once a month after work to let the hiring Supervisor know that I wanted to go to work. One Friday night, he called me at home and offered me a job.”
2. Since you were a lineman in West Texas early in your career, is there particular adventure which sticks out in your memory?
“Lots of good memories. Looking back, I would say the thing that sticks out the most was the multi-tasking we did. We weren’t big enough to specialize in any one thing. Much like COOP linemen, you really had to be able to do just about anything from climbing poles, setting meters to switching in sub-stations. Little did I know then that getting exposure to such a wide range of operations would benefit me greatly in my career.”
3. What was the biggest challenge—and also the biggest reward—from your days as a trainer?
“The biggest challenge was developing quality training materials. When I accepted the position, we really had no formal program. There were four of us hired to be technical trainers in the old Central Southwest Corporation. We were all lineman and had very little experience putting training materials together. We taught ourselves how to use PowerPoint and Word and after lots of hard work and research, we put our program together. Biggest reward, those initial programs have continued to evolve and the merger with AEP gave us resources to turn the combined program into one of the best in the industry. I truly believe we have impacted the lives of many line employees across the AEP system, providing an education that helps them better understand their jobs and keeping them safe.”
4. Has the training regimen changed much from your days on the line?
“Very much so. We were mostly OJT in the early 1980’s, with a few informal classes thrown together on occasion. I remember by the time I went to a climbing school, I had already been climbing poles for more than a year and no longer needed the school.”
5. Did you have a memorable mentor or two who really help you on the way up?
“Lots of them. I had great coworkers in the field and learned a great deal from all of them. Tulsa Manager Tony Hyer and Abilene Technical Trainer Dwain Hicks both taught me a lot on my way up. My first Supervisor, Larry Hampton taught me how the system operated. Once in the Management side of the business, I have been blessed to work for several great leaders. Retired AEP Director Bob Grun and PSO Vice President Steve Baker stand out to me. Both have a similar philosophy that I have tried to adopt. “Get the people side right and everything else will fall into place.”
6. What’s the key to maintaining a good spirit within a line crew, especially during times of widespread outage restoration?
“Whether it’s in the field with our crews or in my current role with our dispatchers, it’s keeping a positive environment. I think as a leader, it’s critical that the employees know that I recognize the great work they are doing and that I am there for them. The sense of accomplishment from a job well done can’t be underestimated. These folks take great pride in their work and I try to be sure they know I notice and appreciate them.”
7. Tell us a little about your job directing the PSO Distribution Dispatch Center and what’s the biggest thing to remember every day.
“The Dispatch Center is a great place to work. I am surrounded by a highly skilled staff that operates one of the most reliable systems in the nation. The biggest thing for this team to focus on daily is our incredible responsibility to operate the system in a manner that the keeps the public and our employee’s safe. After safety, focus on providing the best customer experience we can is a high priority. The dispatch team has members on staff 24/7, 365 to ensure we keep our customers power on. These folks take pride in the work they do and I find this team to be extremely rewarding to work with.”
8. We hear there’s a workforce shortage in the utility industry. As a veteran, do you see it that bad and what can be done to fix it?
“For years we heard about the shortage that would be created due to our aging workforce issues. Those predictions have come true, as we have lost or are losing many experienced workers who have done a great job keeping the grid reliable for years. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Many young people are starting to recognize the great opportunities the electric utility industry has to offer. Technology advances on the grid necessitate the modern workforce have a higher degree of education, with a strong focus on electrical theory and computers. Technical schools like OSUIT in Okmulgee offer two-year degrees that help prepare entry level employees for these careers. We have been blessed to have several of these young people join our team in the last few years and they have convinced me that the future of our industry is in good hands.”
9. What is your favorite hobby and why?
“I have a couple of hobbies that I really enjoy. My family is very important to me and I cherish the time I get to spend with them. We recently purchased a small place at one of Oklahoma’s fine lakes. Our family really enjoys spending time together there. My other hobby is hunting. It’s something I started doing with my son when he was small and we still enjoy it to this day. It’s also my release to get away from the hustle and bustle of work and just sit back and quietly enjoy nature. I will have to admit that I have been known to take an occasional conference call from a tree stand during deer season, I just try not to talk too much when I do.”
10. Any words of wisdom for the next generation on the line?
“Just a few. First, embrace change, it’s coming and complaining about it does not help. I’ve seen a lot of change and most of it turned out to be positive. Second, people and relationships are the most important thing in your life, whether you’re at work or home. Spend as much time developing your people skills as you do your technical skills. Lastly, stay positive, you will be happier for it and positive people accomplish great things.”
Editor’s Note: Contact Senior Editor Rod Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of a good candidate for the Start in the Grid series. Below are the other features from past months:
Johannes Reinscke of Fluence https://www.elp.com/Electric-Light-Power-Newsletter/articles/2018/03/how-did-you-get-your-start-in-the-grid-johannes-reinschke-of-fluence.html?cmpid=enl_elp_electric_light__power_executive_digest_e-newsletter_2018-03-28
Kate Cummings of G&W Electric http://www.elp.com/Electric-Light-Power-Newsletter/articles/2018/02/how-did-you-get-your-start-in-the-grid-kate-cummings-of-g-w-electric.html?cmpid=enl_elp_electric_light__power_executive_digest_e-newsletter_2018-02-28
Matt Kennedy of Doble Engineering.
Greg Ferree of Southern California Edison