Do You Know These 4 Apprentices?

The Lineman Life Podcast

Let me take you back to September 7th, 1981. It was one of the most important days of my life. About a month earlier, I had been accepted to my company’s apprenticeship training program, after being a grunt for about a year. I was so excited to finally get started on my career and path towards being a lineman. I bet you remember the day you got accepted into your training class. How about the anticipation before you started the training.

Little did I know when I walked through the doors of that training center that I was going to meet some lifelong friends. It would also be the start on my journey to learning about different personalities of apprentices. Every apprentice is different, but they also can be grouped by the way they act. Let me tell you about them, I think you’re going to recognize some of these guys I’m going to talk about. It was also the start of me figuring out how to deal with and teach the different personalities. If you are a Lineman you had to learn the same things as I did. I will share my method of dealing with the different types of apprentices, I am sure you had your ways.

Now, the location of the SCE&G training center was in a small town in South Carolina; Denmark, South Carolina. It was a one stoplight town. There was definitely nothing to do in this town. And I think that’s part of the reason why they actually had the training center there. In my class there were 13 apprentices. Now, you know what it’s like when you get 13 apprentices, 13 linemen together, something’s going to go down.

So, we were in this small town, there’s no bars, there’s no nightlife. This was a way of keeping problems to a minimum. Pretty much the only thing there is to do is go back to the hotel, get a six pack of beer and then sit around at the hotel and talk. They had to consider this when the training center was built. During these talks, I quickly learned that out of the 13 guys, you could put everyone into one of these four categories: Mr. Cocky, Mr. Boring, Mr. Quiet, and Mr. Whiny. These categories still hold true until today.

Let’s talk about Mr. Cocky. And I’m sure you know a guy like this. We had a couple of Mr. Cocky’s in my apprentice class. One in particular, this guy knew everything. He knew how to do everything, he was number one, he could climb the best, he could do this. He could do that, and he would tell you about how good he was. When we started climbing, he brought out his climbing belt, he had an unbelievable amount of stuff on his belt; he had a press on tool, he had extra pliers, extra washers. He had like 100 pounds of stuff on his belt. I wondered if he could climb a pole with all of that extra weight. Now, in the first week of our class, he picked up the nickname Super Lineman. And even today, 30-something years later, this guy is still called by this nick-name, Super Lineman.

The apprentice training class was held for 14 weeks over the course of 4 years. In one of the later classes Super Lineman was telling us a story; they had a storm, so they were a little shorthanded with people. They needed to do some hot work so he was sent to the substation by himself in a pickup to open the r-switch, so they could do the work. Now, back in those days, there wasn’t S.C.A.D.A., like it is today where your dispatcher or whoever can just do it for you. Back then you had to actually physically go into the sub, open the r-switch, the reclose switch, and put a tag on it.

Well, Super Lineman as smart as he was goes in there and instead of opening up the r-switch, he grabbed the breaker handle and opened the breaker. This caused an outage to about 5000 people. So, here he is telling this story and we are like, “Dude, you’re an idiot. You think you’re so great, but really you’re a legend in your own mind.”

Over the years, you are going to run in to this type of apprentice, and you’ve got to figure out a way to deal with these individuals. I think the best way to deal with Mr. Cocky is to right from the start just tell him, “Look. Shut up and listen to what I have to say.” Or the phrase, “You need to stop talking now.” And even if you use these phrases, sometimes if they are super cocky, they’re just going to keep on, and you won’t be able to stop them from bragging, even when you use these direct phrases. Because it’s not going to embarrass them, that’s for sure. Just keep on telling them to stop and listen, this will eventually cure the problem.

Next we move on to Mr. Boring. Now, Mr. Boring probably makes up about 50 percent of all apprentices. Mr. Boring, he doesn’t say a lot. Basically he just does his job, he asks questions when he needs to, and he doesn’t try to be the hero and stand out and be number one. If you get one of these apprentices, you’re lucky. This is the best type of guy to have because this is the guy who you can mold and is going to be your number one guy in the future. So, I always love getting Mr. Borings. Put a Mr. Boring with me any day. I’ll take a Mr. Boring with no drama. I love a Mr. Boring.

Number three, Mr. Quiet. Now, Mr. Quiet doesn’t really say anything. Even if he doesn’t know, he won’t ask questions. So, you really can’t find out if he knows what he’s doing or he doesn’t know what he’s doing. You really can’t get a read on him if he knows something or not. If you ask him, “Do you know so and so?” He’s going to say, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I know it, I know.” But then he’ll screw it up and he’ll come back to you and say, “Hey, I messed this up.” Well, you tell him, “I just asked you and you didn’t say anything.” Well, that’s how Mr. Quiet is.

I’ve seen many Mr. Quiets but one kid in particular. Don’t get me wrong this kid was a hard worker, but one day we were working in a pasture. There were cows in the pasture, so we needed to open the gate, take all the trucks in there, and then lock the gate behind us so the cows wouldn’t get out. So, Mr. Quiet was in the pickup truck at the front of the 3 truck convoy with the foreman. So, foreman comes up to the gate, Mr. Quiet gets out, opens up the gate, the foreman’s pickup goes through, the bucket truck goes through, the line truck goes through. Mr. Quiet then shuts the gate. Well, there was just one problem; when Mr. Quiet shut the gate, he was on the outside of the pasture. So, after he shut it, he had to jump over the gate to get back into where the trucks were. How does that happen?

Now, you might ask if what category I would put myself in. Well, I think I was probably in this category to start with. I was a Mr. Quiet. But over the years, I think I’ve developed into a Mr. Boring. I’ll tell a little story about something that happened to me. The job was to make-up an elbow on an underground single phase transformer, I had done it many times with my lineman sitting there watching me do it. And I’d done probably 10 elbows or so with the lineman watching. Well today, I got to do one by myself. So, I made up the elbow, and as I placed the elbow body over the connector I noticed the semiconductor was just a little bit short. It probably needed to be more up into the elbow. I didn’t want to get yelled at so I wasn’t going to say anything. I went ahead, finished making up the rest of it, plugged it in, the line was ungrounded and heated it up, everything was fine.

Well, the next day when I came in I heard there had been a call-out that night for a no power at the same location I had made up the elbow the previous day. And guess what? The elbow that I made up had actually blown out. I caught a lot of grief for that one. But it taught me a valuable lesson, if you screw up say something.

So my way to deal with these types of individuals is to watch them like a hawk. You’ve got to really keep a close eye on them because you really don’t know what they understand, what they know, what they can do, because if they don’t know, they’re probably not going to tell you if you just ask. You really got to probe these guys to find out what they know, what they understand. Make them talk, that is the only way to train them.

Now let’s move on to apprentice type number four. And this is probably the most annoying out of all of them. And this is Mr. Whiny. Now, Mr. Whiny always has something to complain about. Every day it’s something. “This lineman doesn’t like me, these guys aren’t teaching me, these guys are getting more overtime than I do, wah, wah.” It’s always something, over and over and over again.

I am sure you know this type of apprentice. Now, we had an apprentice like this, too. He got a reputation as a whiner and everyone knew it. At the baseyard everyone had individual mail slots for company mail. One day, Mr. Whiny had a box in his mailbox, when he opened it there was a baby pacifier in there; somebody had sent him an oversized pacifier. It was like three times the normal size. They put it in a small box and put it in his mailbox. When he opened that thing up, oh my gosh. He was some kind of pissed off, he was calling HR, he was calling the manager. It was so funny, everybody laughed at him at told him, you’re a crier, you’re whining, that’s what you’re going to get. And to this day, they never caught who did it and nobody every admitted to actually doing it. Epic!

So, the old way I used to deal with these types of apprentice was to piss them off early. I’m talking when they first come in, the first time they open their mouth up and whine, you’ve got to immediately just shut it down, “shut up, go to work”, “I don’t want to hear it”, make them mad. Because once you make them mad, they’re going to quit whining for a while. It’s only going to be temporary, but with reinforcement you might change their attitude permanently.

Now, that’s the old way I used to do it. Now, I’m not sure that’s a good way to do it. Today I try more of a validation approach, which means you got to rationally sit down with them, listen to what they got to say, and just basically talk to them. Tell them seriously, this whining need to stop, please do your job. You still have to listen to what they want to say, but just be rational with them. I’ll tell you the old way works a lot better, but you might not be able to get away with it in today’s world.

So, that’s the four types of apprentices that I’ve come to know over the years, starting back with those 13, back in 1981, and into today. Almost every apprentice I’ve ever met, you could put into one of these categories. Can you fit all of your apprentices in to one of these categories? What methods have you found works best to deal with them?

Maybe you have some new categories that you think would be better or could add onto. If you do, please go to the website, TheLineman.Life, shoot me an email, tell me what you think about these four categories, tell me if you’d like to add one. Even give me some stories about some of these guys you know. Also on the website, you can see the show notes. I’ve also added a little feature there; I have some free resources there and a couple weeks ago I talked about the importance of pre-job briefings. And I think pre-job briefings are probably the most important thing we do during the day to keep everybody safe. It’s very important.

So, I’ve got a little cheat sheet under the free resources tab, where you can download this free cheat sheet. On the back, it’s got all the hazards. You can look at it has a list of common hazards, underground and overhead hazards. So, it’s going to make doing your pre-job briefing a lot easier because you can just quickly look at this list of hazards and then transfer it over to your company’s pre-job briefing sheet.

On the front, there’s some tips to get people to actually listen to your pre-job briefing message in the morning instead of zoning out, not paying attention. The meeting’s over, they don’t know what to do, they don’t know what you told them. So, this free resource is going to help you with pre-job briefings.
Again, you can find all this information on the website, , TheLineman.Life I hope you enjoyed this episode. As always, keep safe, and remember, you are your brother’s keeper. This is David Spooner saying, Aloha.