Making Education Pay

Jeremiah Cockerham

Jeremiah Cockerham was looking for a job that paid well. Not because he wanted to live a lavish lifestyle, but because he has a family – including five children ­– who depend on him. For Jeremiah, like a lot of people with family responsibilities, what the job was wasn’t nearly as important as how much it paid. But now, thanks to Forsyth Tech, he doing something that he likes and pays well – he’s an electrical lineman.

After he graduated high school in 2001, Jeremiah tried a few different careers. He worked in construction for a while and then was a restaurant manager, but says that wasn’t ideal because “I had to work a lot of hours and the pay was OK, but not great.” Then his life changed abruptly when his National Guard unit was called up to go overseas. He ended up doing two tours in Iraq and Kuwait, which was hard but really helped out financially. “When you go overseas you make really good money,” he says. “Then you come home and that money isn’t there anymore. But you don’t want to go back over. So, I decided to do something else.

He attended another local community college, working toward a degree in Criminal Justice Technology, but after his first semester he realized that wasn’t what he wanted to do. “I was weighing my options,” he recalls. “I was talking to a good friend of mine that I was overseas with who works as a lineman at Pike Electric, and he was telling me about how much money he was making a year. I saw this as a good opportunity to match the income that I made overseas.”

That led him to Forsyth Tech. “I found out about Forsyth Tech’s lineman school in King, and I went to get information on it. I ended up going through the ‘Back to Work’ program because I was a veteran, and they said I could qualify to get help paying some of the cost.” The linemen training takes about two months, and Jeremiah says the physical aspect of it is too much for some people. “There were a few people in the class who weren’t ready for it, and ended up having to drop out because they couldn’t handle it. But it got you used to seeing what you’ll have to deal with.”

Jeremiah went through the program, graduated, was immediately hired by one company, then was offered a job by Pike, where his friend works. “That’s who I’m with now,” he says. “I’ve been here two and a half years, and I’ve kind of advanced pretty quickly. I’m already working as an A Lineman, making ten dollars an hour more than when I started.”

And the pay isn’t the only thing he likes about the job. “It’s challenging,” he says. “You get to work outside, and I’ve gotten to see a lot of the countryside.” He’s even had the opportunity to do some traveling and see other areas of the country, since part of the job is going to places where bad weather has downed power lines. “I’ve been up to Boston with the company and places where some hurricanes have come through.”

Jeremiah went to Forsyth Tech’s lineman school because he was looking for a good job. He found one that not only pays well, but one that he also enjoys. As a result, he feels like he’s found a career he’ll stick with. “I don’t think I’m going to go anywhere for a while,” he says.