SEC and MEC see opportunity in new Southside Virginia Training School

Published 10:10 am Thursday, April 7, 2016

Following the early March announcement of the launch of Virginia’s first Power Line Worker Training School, students and instructors wasted little time. 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. But electric line work brings its own unique challenges, especially when the job site is atop an electric utility pole. Part of SVCC’s new Power Line Worker Training 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.

The new program is especially significant at a time when many experienced line workers across the country are retiring and leaving vacancies on the front lines of an industry that insures our nation’s electric systems are functioning at their very best. This trend has caught the attention of electric co-ops here in Virginia, especially Crewe-based Southside Electric Cooperative (SEC) and Chase City-based Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC).

“Electricity is a must, and employing great line workers ensures that our members’ needs and expectations are both met. Whether that means power to run a washing machine at home or the industrial machines of local business – power must be available and reliable. The retirement of long-time line workers is occurring now, and there are more to come … never has it been more important for our industry to have access to high quality line worker applicants,” adds Clint Card, Mecklenburg Electric’s manager of the Chase City district’s operations.

Over the past year, both Mecklenburg and Southside have worked with SVCC to establish a training program to develop qualified applicants for future line worker positions at cooperatives, investor-owned utilities, municipalities, and contractors across Virginia and beyond. 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 the Commonwealth of 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.

So often, excitement about school and learning is simply just not the norm. But Clyde Robertson, the school’s lead instructor, already has his first class on the move and engaged. Robertson, a retired Southside Electric Co-op journeyman lineman with over 40 years of experience, said, “Line work is a tough job, and a line worker is required to wear many hats. 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.”