Want to be a Hurricane Hero? Here’s How You Can Make $62K as a Lineman

A lineman helps restore power after Hurricane Irma hit St. Petersburg, Florida.
Mark Boyer, a lineman from Ameren Missouri, helps restore power on Woodlawn Circle West after Hurricane Irma hit in St. Petersburg, Florida. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

It’s not a particularly sexy or safe job, but you could say it’s an electric career choice.

Sure, you can’t be afraid of heights or high voltage if you want to become a lineman, but it’s a job that pays more than $62,000 a year and $30 an hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

And if you, like me, have spent the last several days without power thanks to the monster that was Hurricane Irma, you know these heroes dangling from power poles are the only ones separating you from the sweet, sweet embrace of a hot shower followed by a Netflix binge.

Oh, and the air conditioning. Glorious A/C, how I miss thee.

“I’d encourage someone (to get into this field) because we need linemen,” said Joe Kohler, owner of Kohler Construction Inc., which his father founded in Pinellas Park, Florida, in 1962.

Lineman Jobs Are in Demand and Pay Really Well

David Long, a lineman from Ameren Missouri, takes a break in the shade while helping restore power to a neighborhood after Hurricane Irma. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Lineman jobs may not have made it onto The Penny Hoarder’s list of the best in-demand jobs in infrastructure, but the BLS forecasts the need for at least 13,700 line installers and repairers through 2024. That’s pretty good, especially when you consider the pay mentioned previously.

And after Irma rolled through Florida, more than seven million people lost power. That means plenty of work for utility contractors and line workers.

“I’ll probably make 30 grand this month,” lineman Nick Chilelli said in an interview with Reuters. “Everybody out here is killing it. Of course, you’re dealing with something that could kill you any minute.”

But Kohler, who obviously has this kind of work in his blood, said it’s also rewarding to be part of something so integral to our lives. He helped build transmission lines between Florida City and Key West.

“I can tell you, as a kid when we were road tripping to the Keys, my dad’s eyes lit up each time we got to his power line,” his daughter, TPH writer Carson Kohler, said. “He loves it.”

Here’s Where to Start if You’re Sold on Lineman Jobs

From left, Mark Boyer and Brian Tyndall move a wooden utility pole as they get a power line back up after Hurricane Irma. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Like other trade jobs we’ve highlighted in the past, you won’t need a college degree to become a lineman.

An apprenticeship should get you on the right path, and some utility companies have trade school programs so you can go to school on the weekends, Kohler said. You’ll mostly learn about safety, and, if it’s a reputable power company, you won’t have to travel like a lot of contractors.

It usually takes four or five years to become a lineman, Kohler said. You start as a “grunt” or groundman, and eventually have the opportunity to work as a lineman. You could even end up a foreman or supervisor if you stay in the career long term.

Kohler himself started at the bottom and worked his way up to own Kohler Construction.

As with a lot of construction jobs, you need to be ready for a hard day’s work.

“They’ve got to be willing to work and willing to tolerate the heat, especially here in Florida, and be outdoors and working hard all day long,” Kohler said. “Are there still people willing to do that? I don’t know.”

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder. He really, really hopes his power comes back on soon.