Co-ops provide opportunity and training
by Jim Robertson, Staff Writer
Manager of Electric System Operations Jill Scherzer joined the co-op family at Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative 25 years ago. A close friend who had worked at NOVEC spoke highly of the workplace culture and opportunities for growth. Scherzer also saw it as a chance to be at home more often with her 1-year-old son at the time.
A George Mason University School of Business graduate, Scherzer spent the first several years of her career working in retail management and often changed locations.
As a youngster, Scherzer attended many events at NOVEC with her mother, including the co-op’s annual meeting. She saw great reward in the opportunity to serve her fellow co-op members.
AN UNEXPECTED CAREER BEGINS
Scherzer’s co-op career began as a system operator, a role for which she had no experience. Thanks to a hunger for learning, she earned her state certification as a system operator following a two-year training program provided by NOVEC.
“Through this program, I learned how to operate an electric distribution system,” says Scherzer. “I spent time with the linemen, construction crews and engineers through field training to gain a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities and how it all worked.”
Eventually, Scherzer was promoted to supervisor of electric system operations prior to her current role as manager. Her primary role today is to direct the 24-hour service-restoration by leading the Operations and Construction teams in preparation for and response to system outages. Scherzer’s main objective during times of crisis, such as a major storm, is to prioritize service restoration while ensuring the safety of all crews, NOVEC members and others. Additionally, she and her team analyze historical data to identify and recommend system improvements.
THE COOPERATIVE DIFFERENCE
“It’s the concern for the community, environment and each other,” Scherzer explains. “Being part of a cooperative means you have an extended family with shared principles that guide our business model and commitment to our members and community.”
Scherzer credits the co-op’s culture and adherence to its seven guiding principles for her greatly expanded knowledge and expertise in an industry with which she was unfamiliar when she first applied.
SURROUNDED BY POWERFUL WOMEN
Scherzer’s team includes two other powerful women, Debbie Campbell, supervisor of electric system operations, and Corina Daw, system operator.
Campbell, who recalls visiting the co-op’s Manassas office with her Girl Scout troop, celebrated 40 years of service this year. She started her co-op career fresh out of high school and has worked in several departments.
“After many years of doing this and age catching up with me, I decided coming inside would be best,” says Campbell. “This is when I became a system operator and loved the fast-paced days.” Operations training along with her prior experience in other departments contributed to her skillset as a supervisor today.
Daw, who’s been with NOVEC for five years, admits she never heard of an electric co-op prior to joining the team. After a 20-year career with a variety of business-related roles, including a 12-year run as a voice and on-camera actor, she joined NOVEC as a customer service representative. Three years later, she began her apprenticeship in system operations and completed the 1,000 hours of field study and Northwest Lineman College’s Power Delivery Program earlier this year.
“I manage the NOVEC grid and am responsible for making sure our system is running as efficiently and safely as possible,” says Daw. “I write switching orders, handle all emergency calls, balance load to make sure the lights stay on, and work on massive restoration efforts during storms. When that last set of homes comes back on, I always feel so accomplished, like I’ve added value.”
Scherzer and her team encourage students today to consider the booming energy industry, which is in need of hardworking people with a hunger for learning.
For more, visit vmdaec.com/powerfulcareers.