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A Worthwhile Journey

From behind the wheel to the top of a pole

April 2023

by Jim Robertson, Staff Writer

Ten short years ago,Wes Shrieves was sitting behind the wheel of a truck every day. That quickly lost its appeal when his cousin repeatedly declared his love for his job with a contractor working on the A&N Electric Cooperative system. As someone who loves being outside and working with his hands, Shrieves was easily convinced to make a move in that direction. After a couple attempts, he accepted a role as a groundman with the co-op in 2013.

Born and raised on the Virginia Eastern Shore, like many of his coworkers, Shrieves finds satisfaction in serving his neighbors and his community. “It’s a very rewarding field,” says Shrieves, now a journeyman line technician. “When you’re able to help somebody out and get the power restored … it’s just a really good feeling.”

With no prior experience on a line crew, Shrieves remains grateful for the training and development opportunities afforded to him by A&N Electric Cooperative. He completed a four-year apprenticeship training program with the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives, which is now hosted at its state-of-the-art training facility in Palmyra, Va., as well as at a newer facility on the Eastern Shore in Salisbury, Md.

“They were phenomenal,” says Shrieves. “They taught us everything we needed to do and how to do it safely.” The eight-step program includes two weeks of class at the facility and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training. Shrieves is now enrolled in the Association’s substation technician apprenticeship program.

Responsibility increases significantly as a journeyman. “You’re out on your own. You’re making decisions on your own,” Shrieves explains. “You’re filling in leading crews, and you’ve got a lot of younger guys looking to you for advice and guidance.”

Shrieves’ 10-year career has been anything but dull. In addition to exploring some other roles at the co-op, he was able to complete training thanks to Sentinel Robotic Systems and become a licensed drone pilot. “We’ve been using them a lot,” he says about drones at the co-op. “We’re doing a lot of inspections. We keep them on the truck at all times. In the event of a larger outage, we’re able to patrol a lot of line really quickly instead of having to wait for boats or utility vehicles to get on scene.”

Cooperation Among Cooperatives is a founding principle of electric co-ops and led to the implementation of a mutual-aid network to provide assistance during large power outages. When a call for help comes in from a sister co-op, every hand goes up. “We all enjoy going out of town and helping out our sister co-ops,” says Shrieves. “One that sticks out to me is Hurricane Florence. We went to Four County [Electric Membership Corporation] in North Carolina. Those guys had it rough down there; they were pretty devastated. It was pretty nice to be able to go down there and give them a hand.”

Shrieves encourages anyone who is a hard worker, likes to be outside and work with their hands to give strong consideration to a career with their local electric cooperative. “There’s a great opportunity to earn a good living,” he says. “The co-op really stands behind you as far as providing you an education. Stick to your training and you’ll be fine.”

For more, visit vmdaec.com/powerfulcareers.