Public-private partnership between Westar, WATC, Wichita school district and others brings pole farm to town

Climbing 40-foot electrical poles in the wind, rain, sleet and snow is an adrenaline rush, says Brett Vinns.

It’s also a fast route to an impressive salary – nearly $100,000 annually for a lineman with an associate’s degree and five years experience.

“I’ve thought about it since I was little,” said Vinns, 20, who is pursuing his degree in electrical power technology from Pratt Community College. “I figured it would be fun to go into.” The Westar Energy training site at Wichita Area Technical College, 301 S. Grove, features a striking collection of electrical poles of various heights. Officials on Tuesday cut the ribbon to officially launch the public-private partnership between Westar, WATC, the Wichita school district and others. Mike Calvert, president of Pratt Community College, said the site will help train a new generation of Wichita linemen, a career that boasts the highest return on investment of any two- or four-year degree from a public college in Kansas.

Through Senate Bill 155, an initiative approved by the Kansas Legislature in 2012, the state also helps pay tuition for high school students enrolled in certain courses at a community or technical college, including electrical power technology.

“A power lineman can earn $99,343 annually after five years in the field,” Calvert said.

“When you look at the investment upfront of tuition, fees, books and supplies of around $9,000 … you do the math,” he said. “That’s a pretty good salary, folks.”

(Read more: Wichita Eagle)