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Energy news from Omaha Public Power District


The rewards of careers in the trades

November 21, 2023 | Grant Schulte | community, industry, OPPD at work, OPPD employees
A power line sparks as an OPPD employee touches it with a branch.
An OPPD employees shows students the sparking that occurs when a branch comes in contact with a live power line. The demonstration was part of Careers in Energy, a program that encourages students to consider careers in the trades. Photo by Lindsey Liekhus

If ever there was a “Don’t try this at home” moment for the high schoolers at OPPD’s Careers in Energy event, it was when line technician David Winkelbauer used high-voltage power lines to set fire to a pair of boots.

A dozen students stared as Winkelbauer – an experienced, well-trained professional – used a long, insulated “hot stick” to grasp an aluminum pole. Slowly, carefully, he touched one end of the pole to a metal platform with a pair of leather work boots sitting on top. Then he brushed the other end against a live power line, suspended between poles on a flatbed trailer.

Electricity crackled, arcing between the wire and pole and shooting down to the platform. A second later, the boots sparked and burst into flames.

Eyes widened. One girl gasped. “Whoa! That’s crazy!”

Follow your passion

For 150 Omaha Public Schools students, the annual Careers in Energy event offered some solid safety tips (power lines are dangerous!) and a look at the many fulfilling, well-paying careers available at public utilities. OPPD and Metropolitan Utilities District (M.U.D.) co-sponsored the two-day event at OPPD’s training center in Elkhorn.

Sure, utilities such as OPPD and M.U.D. have engineers and technicians who provide a crucial public service. But those utilities also employ mechanics, accountants, lawyers, chemists, information technology specialists, marketing and communications gurus, human resources and inclusion staff, and others.

“The neat thing about public utilities is there are a lot of different jobs for a lot of different people with different skills,” said Sam Deisz, a plant engineer at M.U.D.

Students learn about drones during the Careers in Energy event.
Above left: Jordan Boettcher, a senior project explorer at OPPD, shows students his transmitter for a drone at OPPD’s Elkhorn Service Center. Photo by Lindsey Liekhus. Above right: Omaha Public Schools students inspect an OPPD drone during the utility’s Careers in Energy event, which encourages students to consider careers in the trades. Photo by Grant Schulte  

Jordan Boetcher joined OPPD as a senior project explorer after an information technology career at K-12 schools and a university.

Now, he told students, he’s helping build OPPD’s drone program as part of his work finding new innovations for the utility. OPPD flies drones to inspect power lines and power plants, monitor winter ice jams and take photos for public communications, among other uses. They also save time and money in many situations.

“If you’re passionate about something, follow it,” Boetcher told students during a presentation with drone flights. “Don’t be ashamed of it, because you never know where it’s going to lead.”

Careers in the trades

At the line technician display, students witnessed the tremendous power of electricity. The burning boots were part of the presentation, along with a hot dog that bubbled, popped, sizzled and smoked when exposed to high voltage. One line worker climbed a pole, showing the skills he uses in the field to restore power to customers.

“We have an extremely good training program and a very good safety record,” said Dave Tonjes, an OPPD working line crew leader. “We’ve all gone through a lot of training in order to do our line of work.”

Tonjes urged students to consider trade jobs, which are high-paying, in-demand and rewarding.

Many options to consider

In another class, students made homegrown water filters out of sand, sponges, cat litter and rocks for a lesson presented by M.U.D. Water trickled down through some, but wouldn’t penetrate others.

Students learn to make homegrown water filters out of sand, sponges, cat litter and rocks during the Careers in Energy event, which encourages students to consider careers in the trades.
Students learn to use sand, sponges, cat litter and rocks to make homegrown water filters during a lesson presented by Metropolitan Utilities District. Photo by Grant Schulte

Along the way, Deisz shared some M.U.D. trivia.

Did you know, he asked, that the utility has 3,500 miles of pipe running through the Omaha area? Enough to stretch end-to-end from California to Maine?

Did you know that, at peak production, M.U.D. provides about 300 million gallons of water per day? Or that one gallon of tap water costs customers less than a penny?

Deisz said students should consider many different options when considering a career.

“High school is a great opportunity for you to think about the areas you like,” he said. “You don’t have to have your life figured out, but it’s a good time to think about what your favorite classes are and what interests you might have.”

Schools participating were Benson High School, Bryan High School, Buena Vista High School, Burke High School, North High School, Northwest High School, South High School and Westview High School.

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About Grant Schulte

Grant Schulte joined OPPD as a content generalist in 2022. He is a former reporter for The Associated Press, where he covered the Nebraska Legislature, state politics and other news for a global audience. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa and a proud Hawkeye. In his free time he enjoys running, reading, spending time with his wife, and all things aviation.

View all posts by Grant Schulte >

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