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Sky’s the Limit for New Grads

Another boost to jobs in rural markets

JUNE 2022

by Steven Johnson, Staff Writer

Here are the relevant numbers: 18, 24, 400, 6. No, not a dicey lottery play, but instead a definite investment in the field of careers in energy.

Steve Harmon, president and CEO of Community Electric Cooperative, addresses the graduating class of lineworker students. (Photo By: Laura Emery)

As in the 18th graduating class of Southside Virginia Community College’s Power Line Worker Program, which numbered 24 students, including the 400th graduate in its six-year history.

“When we started this, we were struggling with everything from finding instructors to equipment. We had 11 students and we had our graduation in a small classroom,” says Keith Harkins, vice president of workforce development and continuing education at SVCC. “Now, we had nearly 300 people attend this graduation.”

The program, which recruits under the banner of “The Sky’s the Limit” is a case study of cooperation between the school and electric cooperatives in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. Many graduates already have started their own Powerful Careers as apprentice lineworkers with cooperatives and other utilities or contractors.

That includes Thomas Bryant III of Farmville, Va., who was the 400th graduate, while Robert Darden of Courtland, Va., started at Community Electric Cooperative less than 24 hours after graduation. In addition, the spring 2022 class included Tarrin Johnson, son of SVCC President Quentin R. Johnson, who delivered remarks at the graduation ceremony, held at the Fort Pickett Officers’ Club in Blackstone, Va.

“It’s huge for jobs in our area,” Harkins explains. Our students by and large want to stay in Southside Virginia. Programs like this allow them that opportunity. That’s why we work with our industry partners to build on what we have and create new ones whenever we can.”

Future students will have an opportunity to attend the 11-week program with the help of a scholarship fund announced at the graduation in the name of Jeff Edwards, president and CEO of Southside Electric Cooperative, and a driving force behind the creation of the program.

“The school has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done,” says Edwards, who is retiring this summer after a 37-year career in the co-op network. “It is emotional, but my dad was a lineman and that’s why this program is even more special to me because, in a way, it’s a recognition of him and his efforts.”

For more, visit vmdaec.com/powerfulcareers.