“Supporting our communities is what co-ops are all
about.” — Jeff Edwards
“Young people who choose this career are truly heroes.” —
For all their warmth and charm, small rural
communities often suffer from lack of educational and economic opportunity
for young people.
This is a big part of the logic and reasoning behind the
Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative, described so eloquently by former Gov.
Gerald L. Baliles, beginning on page 16.
It’s also a large part of the reason Virginia’s
consumer-owned electric cooperatives are avidly supporting the initiative
through establishment of the Power Line Worker Training School, which begins
classes this spring at Pickett Park near Blackstone as a part of Southside
Virginia Community College (SVCC). Co-ops, by their very nature, exist to
serve and support their communities.
Electric cooperatives also support the initiative and the
school because of a pending critical shortage of skilled electric utility
line workers. The new program will involve 11 weeks of intensive classroom
and hands-on training, and will ready its graduates for employment as
apprentice line workers at electric utilities.
“Supporting our communities is
what co-ops are all about,” notes Southside Electric Cooperative President
and CEO Jeffrey S. Edwards, whose utility developed a prototype Day in the
Life of a Lineman program with local schools, which served as a springboard
to spark and feed interest among area young people in careers as line
workers. “We have been very gratified at the response among high school
students in our communities, who want challenging, rewarding careers that
will allow them to remain in rural Southside Virginia,” he explains.
“We’re extremely pleased to have
had this opportunity to work with Gov. McAuliffe, Southside Virginia
Community College, and the entire Community College System, to help train
our young people for great careers as line workers, and to provide a needed
boost to Southside Virginia,” says John C. Lee Jr., president and CEO of
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, another strong, early proponent of the
SVCC’s new Power Line Worker Training Program was one of
five successful entries in the first Governor’s Competition for Talent
Solutions, announced earlier this fall. The Power Line Worker Training
Program will benefit from a $200,000 matching incentive grant intended to
provide new workforce training options and develop the state’s rural economy
as part of the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative. Former Gov. Baliles
heads up the rural workforce training initiative as chairman of the
community college system’s foundation.
“Awarding these grants
exemplifies the Commonwealth’s commitment to building a demand-driven
workforce system,” says Gov. McAuliffe. “We’re excited about the innovative
solutions put forth and we look forward to working together with our
community colleges and the private sector to train a new generation of
highly skilled talent that will help us build a new Virginia economy.”
Thanks to a separate grant received earlier this year
from SVCC’s Equipment Trust Fund, seed money was available to begin planning
the Power Line Worker Training Program at SVCC’s Occupational/ Technical
Center, located at Blackstone’s Pickett Park, site of the former U.S. Army
base, Fort Pickett.
At that point, with encouragement from Edwards, Lee and
Rappahannock Electric Cooperative President and CEO Kent D. Farmer,
Virginia’s electric cooperatives quickly rallied behind the planned training
program, providing support in an array of ways, from donations of materials
and equipment, to financial assistance, to technical advice on how to design
the program and set up the training yard.
“Cooperatives strongly support workforce training in the
communities we serve, and of course the training that will take place at
this new school will help provide our cooperatives with a pool of excellent
young candidates for line worker positions,” points Farmer. “It was a
natural fit for Virginia’s electric cooperatives to support both the Rural
Horseshoe Initiative that will impact all rural areas, and specifically this
line worker school that will benefit our workforce.”
“We literally could not have
gotten this line worker program going without the strong support of
Virginia’s electric cooperatives,” says Keith Harkins, vice president of
work-force and continuing education for SVCC. “The way they got behind this
worthy cause so strongly and so quickly was a sight to see.”
“We’ll be able to offer this
demanding, technical training beginning in March of 2016,” adds Mary Jane
Elkins, executive director of the SVCC Foundation, which administers
donations. “This dream literally became a reality in less than a year,
thanks to Virginia’s electric cooperatives and the Governor’s office. It’s a
shining example of how a public/private partnership can and should work.”
Mecklenburg’s John Lee adds, “Young people who choose
this career are truly heroes. They’re first responders who do what it takes
— safely, efficiently and tenaciously — to get the power back on after
storms and other outage events. This is a challenging career, but a truly
fulfilling one, and we’re just delighted to have been a part of making it
Southside CEO Jeff Edwards notes that the Day in the Life
of a Lineman program has led many students to reconsider their career plans.
“Many young people will end up making this their life’s work. They’ll enjoy
a wonderful career that’s more than just a job, working outdoors and helping
thousands of people in their communities, providing a critically important,
Rural Youth See Advantages in Career as Power Line Worker
Embarking on a career is a major moment in a young
person’s life. For three young men in rural Southside Virginia, creation of
the Power Line Worker Training School has moved them a step closer to
settling on a life-career decision.
Electric-line work is hard, dangerous and demanding,
often requiring the line worker to miss sleep and be exposed to
uncomfortable weather extremes. Power outages rarely occur during the middle
of the workday in bluebird weather.
“I like the idea of working
outdoors,” says Gage Clary, a senior at Park View High School in Brunswick
County. “I think being a lineman would be a great job. I know several people
in the electric-service business, and one of my best friends’ uncle is a
lineman. I think it’s a good profession, one I’d like to pursue as a
Clary, whose family is served by Mecklenburg Electric
Cooperative (MEC), has spent time with MEC’s Clint Card, who showed him the
types of work and the responsibilities of an electric-line worker.
Clary, who enjoys hunting, fishing, football and
baseball, says, “I’m going to apply for the new program at Pickett Park when
I finish high school. That’s what I’d like to pursue — a career as a
Caleb Crowder, a senior at Amelia High School, also
enjoys being outdoors. “I love to fish and hunt, and play sports,” he says.
“And bad weather doesn’t bother me. I like being outside.”
Like Clary, Crowder says he wants to attend the Power
Line Worker Training School after graduating from high school. His interest
in working as a power line worker began after talking to Jeff Edwards, CEO
of Southside Electric Cooperative (SEC), which serves his family’s home.
“I’d been talking to some people
about the idea of working as a lineman, and then I got to talk to Jeff, and
he helped me make the decision,” says Crowder.
Crowder attended SEC’s program for high schoolers, A Day
in the Life of a Lineman, in 2015, which reinforced his decision to pursue a
line worker career.
“I love the idea of line work,”
says Crowder. “It’s a good-paying job, and I really enjoy working outdoors.”
Jackie Lewis graduated from Randolph-Henry High School in
Charlotte County two years ago. He’s been able to cobble together several
types of part-time work since graduation, but says he’d really like to get
into electric-line work as a life career.
A native of the tiny rural community of Wylliesburg,
Lewis says he’s had an interest in the idea of being a lineman since he was
about 16 years old.
“I’ve always liked being
outdoors, and I like climbing,” he says. “Plus, I like learning about
electricity, circuitry, and I like the idea of serving the community.
“I was going to attend the
(electric-line worker training) school in Georgia, but the classes were full
at the time,” he says.
Card (of MEC) told me about the new school being formed in Blackstone, and
that sounded like just what I need,” Lewis adds. He plans on applying to the
school and hopes it leads to a career as a power line worker.
love to be able to find a good job that would let me stay around here, where
my family is and where I’ve grown up,” he says. “Plus, electric lineman is a
career that will always be needed and something I could work at the rest of