In April 2021, DTE Energy partnered with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Local 17, the city of Detroit and nonprofits to recruit residents from the city and surrounding communities to enroll in its Tree Trim Academy.
Former prisoners are learning how to climb trees and trim branches around power lines as part of DTE Energy’s $70 million investment to improve the utility’s electric infrastructure. Currently, about 100 people have graduated from the academy, and more than 80 graduates have been hired by tree trimming companies. Half of the 59 graduates from the academy’s pilot class are Detroit residents, 47 are people of color and six are women.
Scott Steffes (photographed) is one graduate of the program, who will leave Michigan’s Parnall Correctional Facility later in January to start a new career.
Steffes, 37, is one of more than a dozen prisoners learning how to climb trees and trim branches around power lines as part of DTE Energy’s $70 million plan to improve the utility’s electric infrastructure
Students in the academy earn a daily stipend of $50 for the first two weeks of the career prep curriculum, which then increases to $100 for the remaining five weeks of the program — when they’re taught line clearance, safety, use of tools and machinery, and climbing.
As a woodsman, pay starts at $17.50 per hour plus benefits, and after two and a half years when workers reach journeyman status, the hourly rate jumps to $32.
“Due to the large amount of overtime, a journeyman line clearance tree trimmer can make $70,000 to $120,000 per year, give or take,” James Shaw, business manager of Local 17, told the Associated Press.