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Wheatland wins Business Award for apprenticeship program
COURTESY PHOTO Pictured from Wheatland Electric, shown left to right, are: Shajia Donecker, social media specialist; Alli Conine, director of member services & corporate communications; Nicole Semenko, payroll specialist; Bruce W. Mueller, general manager; Rick Klaus, director of operations; and Kyle Strickert, manager of substations and metering, accepting the 2023 Apprenticeship Champions and Partners Award from Lt. Governor David Toland (center) at the Kansas Business Awards on Oct. 12, in Wichita.

SCOTT CITY — Wheatland Electric Cooperative Inc. has been awarded the Apprenticeship Champions and Partners Award by the Kansas Department of Commerce for its nearly 50-year-old apprenticeship training program.  

The electric cooperative was selected by state judges from among several entities, both public and private “that excel providing registered apprenticeship programs in Kansas.” These included Goodland Tech, Goodwill Industries of Kansas, Hutchinson Community College, Nautical Manufacturing and Fulfillment & Down Syndrome Innovations, The Bradbury Group, and The Dwayne Peaslee Technical Training Center. 

“Our apprenticeship program, in place since the 1970s, is a program we are incredibly proud of and one that has powered the lives of lineworkers at our cooperative and the economies of the communities we serve,” said Bruce W. Mueller, CEO/general manager. “We are proud of the hard work and dedication that our employees have put in over many decades to earn our program the excellent reputation that it has today.” 

Since at least the mid-1970s, WEC has successfully administered a formal apprenticeship program to train lineworkers from the ground up—providing classroom instruction on power line safety, construction, and maintenance from qualified veteran lineworkers and coupling that knowledge with real-world experience out in the field. 

In addition to the lineman apprenticeship program, the cooperative also provides two additional apprenticeship programs: substation and meter technician.

“Our apprenticeship training program is a team effort,” added Rick Klaus, director of operations. “There have been many excellent WEC instructors over the years who have built much of the linework team WEC still employs today. To be recognized for this program is long overdue.”

Representatives from Wheatland Electric attended the “To the Stars: Kansas Business Awards” ceremony on Oct. 12, 2023, at the B-29 Doc Hangar, Education and Visitors Center in Wichita to be recognized by state officials and guests and receive the statewide honor. 

A record 297 businesses, organizations and individuals were nominated in nine categories for this year. Nominees were reviewed and scored for various criteria such as business expansion, employee recruitment and retention practices, training and educational programs, capital investments, and support of local community events. 

“The Kansas economy is booming because of these innovative entrepreneurs,” Lt. Gov. and Secretary of Commerce David Toland said. “When we talk about Kansas being the best state in the nation to live, work and raise a family, we know it is possible because of great companies driving success in their communities. It is an honor to celebrate their achievements.”