SEC and MEC endorse SVCC Lineman School

Published 10:29 am Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Following the early March announcement of the launch of Virginia’s first Power Line Worker Training School, students and instructors wasted little time, according to a Southside Virginia Community College  press release. On day two of the brand new 11-week certification course being offered by Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC), students from across central and southern Virginia were already 40 feet in the air.

Learning the skills for a new job can be difficult for anyone, regardless of the occupation. Electric line work brings its own unique challenges, especially when the job site is atop an electric utility pole. Part of SVCC’s new school is preparing students to work at exactly this location — high above the ground.

On March 1, the inaugural class of SVCC’s new training school strapped on their climbing hooks, stepped up to their lofty classroom and began their quest for employment in the electric utility industry.

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The new program is especially significant at a time when many experienced line workers across the country are retiring. This trend has caught the attention of Southside Electric Cooperative (SEC) and Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC).

“You can fill an opening, but you don’t easily replace 30 years of know-how,” SEC director of operations Brad Furr said. “Line work is physically demanding, but it is also mentally challenging. This training takes time and commitment for an employee to safely meet the requirements of handling 14,400 volts on the lines that serve our communities.”

Over the past year, both Mecklenburg and Southside have worked with SVCC to establish a training program to develop future line worker positions at cooperatives, investor-owned utilities, municipalities. The new school, which grew out of a career-exploration program created by Southside Electric called A Day in the Life of a Lineman, will bring needed opportunity to the region and the state.

The opening of the SVCC Line Worker School is the first pre-training program in Virginia. The school’s first class of 12 students from Charlotte to Powhatan counties includes some who’ve just graduated from high school as well as those looking for a new career path.

Jackie Lewis, a member of this first class, hails from Wylliesburg. He and his family have been working for nearly two years to find a program just like this. Jackie’s mom, Kim, is excited about the new school and its impact on her son’s future.

“We were looking into enrolling Jackie into a similar program in Georgia and were pleased to find this opportunity offered by our own SVCC and endorsed by our cooperative MEC. I can hardly express how happy it makes me to see my son so excited about this opportunity, and if he works hard and graduates, it will provide him the security of a lifelong career in a rewarding field,” Kim said.

Cameron Gibbs, program participant and son of SEC district supervisor Gary Gibbs, is excited to be on his way toward a lineman career.

“This whole experience has gone really well. Being a lineman isn’t something I thought I was going to do when I first got out of school. By the first day I just fell in love with it. Climbing, working hands-on and making good money — you can’t beat it,” Cameron said.

Clyde Robertson, the school’s lead instructor, already has his first class on the move and engaged. Robertson is a retired SEC journeyman lineman with over 40 years of experience.

“Line work is a tough job, and a line worker is required to wear many hats,” Robertson said. “We are giving these students a leg up by developing the skills they need to fill job openings at organizations that build and maintain electric distribution systems. On the first day of school, they strapped on the hooks and started climbing poles. They’re also learning the importance of being responsible, listening to instructions, and doing their work safely every time. Here, they’ll be taught that there is no room for cutting corners when working with electricity.”

The opening of SVCC’s new Line Worker School is the culmination of the efforts of multiple groups and organizations. After months of hard work and collaboration between SVCC, the Virginia Community College System, Gov. Terry McAuliffe and his staff, and electric cooperatives across Virginia, the program stands as a shining example of a true public-private partnership.

Demand for the school is high, with two additional 11-week classes scheduled to begin in July and October. Each class series will have about 15 students, and is taught at SVCC’s Occupational Technology Center at Pickett Park in Blackstone. The next session opens on July 11, and lodging is available for those requiring such accommodations.

For more information about SVCC’s Line Worker Training School, go to or contact SVCC’s Susan Early at (434) 292-3101.