The need for skilled workers in Minnesota is on the rise. Many companies are struggling to find qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds who have the right knowledge and skills to enter critical workforce positions. As a result, industries are facing significant workforce shortages and are seeing a growing skills gap in their applicants.
But an initiative called the Legacy I-3 program wants to turn this trend around in the state’s energy industry by preparing underserved young people from various backgrounds to become the future employees energy companies are looking for.
Created by Deon Clark of TCI Solutions, the Legacy model prepares local and diverse talent to be viable candidates for their desired future employment.
“We wanted to create a process that helped more young people know about all the opportunities they have before them, despite the circumstances they find themselves in and the challenges they deal with,” Deon Clark said in a personal interview with American Experiment. “We knew, though, that we would have to overcome barriers when we started talking about bringing in more diverse candidates. There’s a stigma that individuals from these communities aren’t as qualified as the general population, and we built a system to counter that narrative.”
The framework of Legacy focuses on shaping the perception incoming participants have about jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.
“It’s all about the mindset. We are exposing young people to jobs that require technical skills, trade jobs. And we knew we needed to help them understand this type of work wasn’t beneath them but real, meaningful work that comes with a sense of pride,” Clark said. “So, the first part of Legacy is mental.”
Students learn as much industry knowledge as possible from subject matter experts Legacy brings in. The goal is to expose participants to the industry and what training is involved before sending them off to a technical college to complete their coursework and certification requirements.
Getting commitment from employers to partner with Legacy and its participants was the next step, according to Clark. Not only was there a need for employers as a financial resource, but there was a human capital component, as well. “Having companies willing to give us some of their folks who have done this type of work to serve as mentors is extremely beneficial to Legacy participants,” Clark said. “Now they can learn from individuals who have seen the work involved because they’ve done it, and they can guide these trainees through it. And they learn the industry is more than just a job.”
One major partnership is with Xcel Energy. The electric services company works with Legacy to provide scholarships that help with a technical college’s tuition, and then Xcel’s staff observes students in action during their training. Deon Clark introduced American Experiment to four young men currently a part of Legacy and Xcel’s partnership: Kamal Holmes, Kyndal Pringles, Spencer Roth, and Abdiaziz Abdinisir, who each shared part of their journey to becoming electrical linemen.
Kamal Holmes, a 21-year-old Legacy participant from Chicago who relocated to Minnesota almost two years ago, originally thought his education plan was to get a four-year degree to become a health service manager. But an introduction to the energy industry revealed an unexplored passion for electrical work.
“My stepfather works for a power company in Chicago, and I never really thought about going into that field until one of his friends asked me if I had ever considered being an electrical line worker,” Holmes said. “I never touched a tool growing up, but when I joined Legacy and was exposed to the industry through my classes and hands-on learning experiences at Dakota County Technical College, the fire was ignited.”
The most challenging part of lineman training? “Learning to climb,” Holmes said. “My confidence told me it would be a piece of cake, but it wasn’t. I kept slipping and falling and after three days of trying to climb, I didn’t have it down. I started to doubt whether I could do this.”
Prospective electrical linemen must demonstrate how to properly climb wooden poles using correct techniques for safetying-on and off (adjusting a safety strap while working on a pole) and maneuvering around a pole.
“I knew the book stuff, I got that down,” Holmes said. “But climbing became my demon, and so from April all the way to July I worked on making myself mentally tougher to master the climb.”
Finally, on the last day of class when climbing to the top of the pole was required to not fail the course, Holmes climbed to the top of the pole. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I did it. I did it. I dealt with the mind portion and the body followed.’”
After recently completing the 10-month electrical line worker program at Dakota Technical, Holmes has been interviewing for a position with Xcel Energy. “This is a profession where you will be kicked to the curb if mediocrity is even sensed. Your heart and your mind have to be in this. If they are, you can do it and be very successful.”
Kyndal Pringles, a 24-year-old Legacy participant from Minnesota whose father is a lineman, started down the college path after a short baseball career, but quickly realized he wasn’t interested in sitting in class for four more years.
“So, I started to work a landscape job and liked it because it was outdoors and something new every day. I wasn’t just stuck in one spot,” Pringles said. “That steered me to getting into physical labor and the trades.”
After spending about five months as a pipefitter, Pringles realized he had established a good general knowledge of tools and valuable technical skills. But then Pringles was laid off. “I didn’t know what I going to do next, until my dad said that I wouldn’t have to worry about being laid off as a lineman. So, I was introduced to Deon Clark through a friend and started with Legacy and Dakota Technical College.”
Pringles’s favorite part of the lineman training? “There’s a thrill aspect to the job that I love. It’s difficult, it’s dangerous, but there’s more meaning involved than just sitting in a cubicle all day pushing papers.”
(Right before American Experiment began interviewing Pringles, he shared he had just been offered a job at Xcel.)
Spencer Roth’s introduction to Legacy started through his brother-in-law Fred, a lineman for Xcel.
“I used to go to school at North Dakota State University because I wanted to be a police officer. But I was so bored with all the classes, and I didn’t feel they were helping me to be a cop,” Roth said. “I was paying a lot of money to be there, and I didn’t know if it was the right fit.”
Over a college winter break, Roth’s brother-in-law introduced him to a group of young men pursuing a lineman career—including Holmes and Pringles. “We had our first meeting with Deon, and I jumped on the Legacy train as soon as I could,” Roth said. “I truly believe that humans need structure, and Legacy’s approach really is structure. I’ve watched us all grow all year, and it’s really rewarding to be a part of something that actually pays off.”
Roth is currently being pursued by two different electrical companies, including Xcel, and has a tough decision to make. “I want to work for Xcel, because they were part of our training and invested in us, but then there’s this other company who jumped in front and put out an offer today,” Roth said. “I guess it’s a good problem to have when companies are competing for you.”
Abdiaziz Abdinisir, a 23-year-old Somali who grew up in Kenya and moved to Minnesota in 2015, met Deon Clark during high school. “My friends and I stayed after school to find out more about his program,” Abdinisir said. “I knew it was about the energy industry, and I was hungry for knowledge. I was trying to find a career path that would be unique.”
He had been working at TJ Maxx while going to school, but something was missing. “My main goal with work wasn’t to make big money, I wanted knowledge. I wanted to be an educated person. That was my main point.”
Abdinisir’s Legacy training helped him expand and further develop his social skills. “I had social-phobia,” he said. “But having these brothers [Holmes, Pringles, and Roth] next to me helped me overcome my nervousness. And I was getting knowledge through my classes at Dakota.”
But Abdinisir quickly learned applying his knowledge to climbing a pole was more challenging than he anticipated. “I told myself, I know I’m struggling to climb, but I can do this. Falls and all.” He showed a scar on his upper arm where a piece of wood became stuck after he slipped down a pole. “I didn’t even notice the wood in my arm for three days. But I made the climb, and I am so proud of how far I have come. Deon showed me the starting point, and I knew where I wanted to end up. I am so appreciative for Legacy and Xcel, and without them, I couldn’t make all this come true.”
Abdinisir will continue his schooling to eventually be an electrical engineer, but “my short-term goal is to be a lineman.”
And the final words of wisdom? “Learning to become a lineman is such a great opportunity and experience. You just have to stick with it,” Abdinisri said. “Plus, it is so much better than making $9.50 an hour at TJ Maxx.”