Governor’s grant, electric co-ops launch Power Line Worker Program

Published 4:26 pm Thursday, January 7, 2016

This year, Southside Virginia Community College will begin offering a training program designed to address the projected critical shortage of skilled electric utility line workers. This program, involving 11 weeks of intensive classroom and hands-on training, will ready its graduates for employment as apprentice line workers at electric utilities.

“Thanks to Virginia’s 13 consumer-owned electric cooperatives, this type of pre-apprentice training will become a reality at a time when skilled line workers are needed to replace the wave of retirements expected in the industry over the next few years,” a press release noted. “Training will be provided in Southside Virginia, a region of the state where skilled workforce training is needed to allow young people to remain in the area to work and raise families.”

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“Supporting our communities is what co-ops are all about,” Southside Electric Cooperative president and CEO Jeffrey S. Edwards said. His 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, according to the release.

“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 said.

“We’re extremely pleased to have had this opportunity to work with Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Southside Virginia Community College and the entire Community College Systemto help train our young people for great careers as line workers, and to provide a needed boost to Southside Virginia,” president and CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative John C. Lee, Jr. said.

“Innovation is the cornerstone of Southside Virginia Community College. The Line Worker Program is another example of our willingness to pioneer programs in response to local and regional industry needs. The Power Line Worker Program offers national credentials for those completing it. This is an exciting prospect,” SVCC President Dr. Al Roberts said.

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 Virginia Gov. Gerald L. 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,” McAuliffe said. “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.

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.

“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,” Rappahannock CEO Kent Farmer said. “So 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,” vice president of Workforce and continuing education for SVCC Keith Harkins said. “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,” Executive Director of the SVCC Foundation Mary Jane Elkins said. “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 said, “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 happen.”

Southside CEO Jeff Edwards said 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, essential service.”