Five minutes with Tim Schipper: apprentice linesman

In July this year, leading infrastructure service provider Zinfra Group recognised their best and brightest apprentices, with Tim Schipper awarded Most Outstanding Second Year Apprentice. Energy Source and Distribution talks with the apprentice linesman about his unconventional career journey and the benefits of being one of Zinfra’s 100-plus apprentices and trainees.

What were you doing before beginning your apprenticeship with Zinfra?

I was a full time firefighter with the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE), where I operated heavy machinery for rehabilitation works after fires, maintained forest roads and worked as part of their aerial incendiaries and water-bombing crews. I’d also worked in a variety of trade environments, including automotive, landscape, civil construction and building. The electrical industry was about the only one I hadn’t tried my hand at and, so far, it’s the one I’m enjoying most.

Has the transition into the electrical industry been easy?

I’ve found working in this industry has brought together skills and techniques I’ve developed throughout the years. So for me, the transition has been exceptionally smooth. I like to use my hands, enjoy problem solving, don’t mind working hard and take pride in the end result of my work. There had also been a strong emphasis on safety and teamwork in each of my previous jobs, which are equally paramount for working as a linesman. The people I have worked with since beginning my apprenticeship have all been great. If I ask a question to clarify my understanding, I’ll get a relevant and practical answer, which helps me then complete the task at hand.

Describe a typical day in the field.

The scope of works involved with what is done on a day-to-day basis is really broad. I could be out in a four-wheel-drive scoping what is needed to complete a job and I might be in the yard preparing materials or poles for a job that’s been scoped. If my day doesn’t entail either of those things, I’m probably out in the field doing any number of things in any number of locations, potentially even working on a different asset owner’s network to what I was the day before.

So far I’ve worked as far south as Point Nepean on the Mornington Peninsula, as far north as Finley in NSW, as far east as Mallacoota and quite a lot of places in between that reach all the way back to the inner eastern suburbs of Melbourne. We might be replacing steel conductor for kilometres through the Strzelecki Ranges one day, winding our way through the Dandenongs with HV ABC the next, changing HV crossarms in Warrandyte all on the SP AusNet network after that, and doing live LV work the following day on the UE network.

What has been your favourite project to work on and why?

In my first year the company undertook a 132kV line upgrade from Mulwala to Finley in NSW which is probably the largest, single, continuous project I have worked on. The new line constructed was more than 50km long and we worked in with transmission crews to complete the job, including the retirement of the existing line, which was isolated for the duration of the project. I learned a lot of fundamental skills on that job through repetition and was also given plenty of guidance on how to use equipment and machinery that I hadn’t had much exposure to.

Do you have advice for young linesmen?

I would say use your initiative, be prepared to take on challenges and ask questions along the way. Another thing would be to work smart, rather than hard. I plan on this being my job for a long while yet, so my intention is to get to know my craft as best I can. This is a great industry to work in and there are plenty of people I talk to who would love to enjoy their job as much as I do.

What do you like best about your job?

I like that almost every linesman will agree in saying that it’s the best job in the world. I thoroughly enjoy the variety of what I get to do and of what there is to come. I think it’ll be a long time before I’m bored. Although the electricity supply industry is relatively small, there are so many different levels for participation. I hope to achieve some of my goals not too long after completing my apprenticeship, yet, with that said, I know I will always be learning.