Pursuit of an education degree interrupted by 20-year co-op career
by Jim Robertson, Staff Writer
Coming out of high school, many students are unsure about which career path to follow. This is especially common in the small towns and rural areas served by electric cooperatives. Options are limited for those who wish to remain in their small town.
“The rewards of this type of job, or a job with a cooperative, in this area far surpass other opportunities to stay local,” says Jason Stapleton, area supervisor for the Jonesville, Va., district at Powell Valley Electric Cooperative, headquartered in New Tazewell, Tenn.
Stapleton, an elementary education major at the time, took a job with the co-op in 1997 during summer break. With the understanding that he would go back to school and earn his degree, he decided to continue assisting with the construction of a transmission line for the next eight months. To his delight, Stapleton was offered a permanent position with Powell Valley Electric Cooperative in January 1998.
Serving as an apprentice line technician in New Tazewell for more than three years, Stapleton’s career path included a move to the Jonesville district as a first-class line technician and crew leader before shifting focus to the engineering side of the business. Unlike his predecessor, Stapleton was fortunate to have training from a knowledgeable mentor.
Staying true to the promise he made, Stapleton attended night school at Tusculum College and earned his bachelor’s degree in organizational management. His research project focused on the deregulation of electric cooperatives in Tennessee. Although tuition assistance was not available at the time, former PVEC General Manager Randell Meyers made sure Stapleton was able to be back at the office by 4 p.m. each day for class and to complete schoolwork.
As Jonesville area supervisor, Stapleton is responsible for supervising and coordinating all activities relating to the construction, operations and maintenance of the cooperative’s electrical system. This includes maintenance, troubleshooting and problem resolution of all electrical facilities, including substations, transmission, distribution, poles, meters and wires. Ensuring the safety of PVEC employees, contractors and the general public is a top priority. Stapleton also provides a safety tip in the PVEC section of Cooperative Living every few months, opposite his counterparts in the co-op’s other districts.
Stapleton finds great reward in his role today, but admits at times he misses the personal interaction with farmers, landowners and others to help determine the best ways to meet their needs. “We don’t sell power,” he says. “We offer a service, and to see your efforts make a positive difference in someone’s life brings a real sense of fulfillment.”
During a memorable 2009 snowstorm, Stapleton was put to the test during a nine-day outage. “I was expected to dispatch crews,” Stapleton recalls. He was responsible for coordinating the efforts of more than 100 employees and mutual-aid crews—something he had never done before. “That got pretty hectic, but I had a lot of support.” Following the storm restoration, Stapleton spent countless hours gathering data for reimbursement from FEMA.
Like many others in the cooperative industry, Stapleton appreciates the camaraderie among the team working toward a common goal. “Like a machine, all parts must be working,” he says. “No one person is more important than another.” That’s the cooperative difference.
Consider a powerful career at your local electric cooperative. You may be surprised at the opportunities in your rural backyard.
For more, visit vmdaec.com/powerfulcareers.