Phil and PJ Jarvis bring a father-son connection to co-ops
By Preston Knight, Contributing Writer
PJ Jarvis never had the pressure of carrying on the traditions of the family business. A lineworker has enough to think about beyond living up to a father’s expectations.
Even so, the best job-recruitment tool yet may be family ties. If nothing else, it gives the older generation a head start on influencing those who will come next. PJ, a newly minted journeyman lineworker with Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, found his way into the utility industry in just that manner.
The 23-year-old is following in his father’s footsteps. In this case, the family business is electric cooperatives; PJ’s father, Phil, was a lineworker for BARC, a neighboring co-op to SVEC.
“I am very proud of all three of my boys. PJ is wired much like me, so linework fits him like a glove,” says Phil, now manager of safety services with the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives. “He seems to enjoy the work and the comradery with the folks in this industry.”
In April, the younger Jarvis completed an eight-step, four-year training program through the association, which graduated him to first-class journeyman lineworker status at SVEC. It was 24 years to the week that his father accomplished the same.
In the fall of his senior year at Rockbridge County High School, PJ applied to Virginia Tech’s agriculture tech program to follow his lifelong dream of becoming a farmer, says his mother, Tricia. However, reality set in for her oldest son that earning a living off the family farm would be too difficult. Compounding that fact was an unappealing notion of staying in a dorm, she says. PJ looked at options beyond college.
In January 2018, he attended an informational session about a lineworker school at Southside Virginia Community College. A representative from Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative spoke on how being a lineworker was not just a career, but a lifestyle.
“That’s when PJ’s wheels really started turning,” his mother says. “He had grown up with a lineman for a father, so it wasn’t anything he didn’t already know, but hearing it put it into words really hit home.”
Soon after, in his duties as a volunteer firefighter, PJ responded to a field fire with his local department. BARC lineworker Kevin Bryant was also on the scene because it involved a downed wire.
“Kevin obviously made quite an impression on PJ because when he came home that night, he was very excited and said that’s what he wanted to do,” Tricia says. “He wanted to become a lineman.”
ANSWERING THE CALL
The interview with SVEC was a memorable one for Scott Austin, an SVEC line superintendent at the time. It was spring 2018, but PJ explained he could not start until later in the year. He had promised a farmer he would help with several tasks that summer.
Austin says this reflected PJ’s integrity, that even as an 18-year-old he knew the value of commitment and honoring one’s word. PJ started at SVEC’s Augusta County district in a utility man position in September 2018, and he became a second-class apprentice lineworker a year later.
“I am very proud of all three of my boys. PJ is wired much like me, so linework fits him like a glove. He seems to enjoy the work and the comradery with the folks in this industry.” — Phil Jarvis, manager of safety services, VMDAEC
“He’s one of the hardest workers. He farms. Delivers hay. Answers all the outage calls,” says Josh Hedrick, PJ’s supervisor. “You couldn’t ask for a better employee.”
If PJ did not immediately pick up his father’s linework skills, he inherited being a man of few words. Both men understand they have a job to do, and do it, not looking for any publicity.
To be multi-generational cooperative lineworkers, though, puts them in rare modern company. PJ recalls attending the Gaff-n-Go Lineworker’s Rodeo as a child, watching his father compete in the timed competition that pits utilities against each other. Phil participated in the first one in 2003.
“I just saw what a rewarding career it was,” PJ says. “I like to work hard. I like the outdoors. It just fit.”
UNDER NO PRESSURE
The Jarvises are proof that the path to becoming a lineworker has many entrances. Phil was the first in line to do so in his family.
“It was just luck that drew me to linework,” he says. “I had a friend whose father was a general foreman for a contractor doing distribution linework, and he was looking for help. I took a groundman position on a crew and fell in love with it.
“I didn’t know this industry was there. It never crossed my mind.”
After a few years of traveling with the contractor, Phil says he was ready to settle down. He began working for BARC, his local electric cooperative, and stayed there 18 years.
Phil joined the electric co-op association in 2015, as PJ began high school. The dinner conversation never centered on linework.
“I don’t know that I ever pressured him. I think I told him there were certainly opportunities with his skillset — wanting to work and be outside,” Phil says. “It’s a very rewarding profession.”
While the plan was never to raise the next generation of lineworkers in his own home, he’s happy this was the path chosen.
“I’m very proud of him,” Phil says, a few moments after PJ’s lineworker graduation in April. “As many of the other safety folks said to him, he needs to keep things he’s learned in his training in the forefront, and make sure he does everything he needs to do to stay safe to return home to his family, the same way that he went.”
For more, visit vmdaec.com/powerfulcareers.