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Power Line students climb to success

Ask a handful of high school seniors what they are planning to do after graduation, and at least one will likely tell you they are planning to enroll in Southside Virginia Community College’s (SVCC) Power Line Worker program.

The course has become very popular with graduates throughout the area, providing today’s young workers with 11 weeks of electric utility line work instruction and training which often result with a job offer straight out of the program.

According to Keith Harkins, SVCC vice president of workforce development and continuing education, the Power Line Worker program has local origins stemming from a need for such initiatives.

Harkins said the program was started five years ago when Southside Electric CEO Jeff Edwards and Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative CEO John Lee came together and determined there was a real local need in the field. The duo felt SVCC would be the perfect place to offer the training. An outdoor lab was built in Pickett Park at SVCC’s Blackstone location, and the program blossomed from there.

During the 11 weeks, students at SVCC learn the fundamental aspects of power line work, including classroom and hands-on training in safety, climbing techniques, electrical theory, aerial framing, rigging, operating utility service equipment and commercial driver’s license training.

Harkins added students are able to earn several credentials throughout the course, including an entry-level CORE safety course, National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) power line worker level 1 certification, CPR first-aid certification and an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) 10 card.

Harkins stressed that the main goal of the program is to train students about safety in all aspects of electric utility work.

“It can be a dangerous line of work, so it’s important.”

He added that the intensely-popular course draws in students from all over the state, and even some from out of state.

Giving insight into why the program is so popular, he said the 11 weeks of training are intense, with students starting from small climbing training to scaling a 65-foot pole. However, the program is highly rewarding for somebody with a self-directed and motivated mindset.

And for those willing to put in the hard work, the opportunities are there. Harkins said there have been a number of power line worker classes where utility companies came in and offered every single student a job upon graduation. He said some of the largest employers of SVCC grads include Virginia’s Electric Cooperative, Dominion Energy and contractors such as Lee Electrical Constructions.

“The students that graduate from that program, the vast majority are employed before they finish the program,” said SVCC President Quentin Johnson. “We have a waiting list. People are calling from out of state and across the Commonwealth of Virginia. It’s amazing.”

Johnson said students who graduate from the program can expect to make a minimum of $40,000 per year. With overtime, some graduates can make more than $100,000 per year, with the average income being more in the $60,000 to $70,000 range.

“It’s a high quality program,” Johnson said. “We are one of the leaders in the commonwealth in training power line workers.”

Johnson said he was able to get out and get in the truck that boosts the linemen to the top of the poles.

“You want to talk about exhilarating,” he added.

“SVCC’s Power Line Worker training school has been a wonderful addition to the area’s educational options for students finishing high school,” Edwards said. “Graduates of the 11-week program earn their line worker credential cards, commercial driver’s licenses, safety certifications and entry into not just a job, but a lifetime career. SVCC’s program is a significant door opener for young people across Southside Virginia and the entire state.”

Edwards noted that the school was created through a partnership of SEC, other cooperatives and power providers, the Virginia, Maryland and Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives, state government, and leaders at SVCC and the community college system. He said they all saw the need to provide another career option for high school graduates and a way to build the future workforces for cooperatives, investor-owned companies, other electricity providers and contractors.

“SEC happily continues to support the program, including hiring some of the graduates,” he added.

Central High School graduate Luke Daniel, of Kenbridge, graduated from SVCC’s Power Line Worker program last fall. He was inspired to enroll after seeing how much his brother enjoyed the program.

“I knew a bunch of people that went and always heard good talk about the trade,” he added.

Daniel said he learned many great skills during the course, including those that are helpful to know even if one doesn’t end up going into linemen work, such as running a line truck and a bucket truck. He said graduates from the program receive their Class A CDL (commercial driver’s license), which provides a skill to fall back upon if line work does not work out.

Daniel recalled a variety of utility companies visited the school during the program to get to know the students and discuss employment opportunities. He received a job offer from Lee Electrical and has worked there ever since.

“You’d have a job before you walked out of the doors at the school.”

Prince Edward High School graduate Todd Schinabeck, of Rice, is currently preparing to finish up the Power Line Worker program at SVCC. He said the course was a fun and exciting way to learn an excellent skill.

He added while climbing to such great heights is exciting, it’s a bit frightening when you first look down.

“Usually companies will come and watch the training and offer jobs to anyone they think will be good,” he added. “Around 99% of the people who came through the power line program are offered a job. I would recommend this program to anyone who is interested in it. It is a very good program and provides many opportunities and a great career.”

Grayson Crawford, of Keysville, said he learned of the program through his guidance counselor at Randolph Henry High School.

He said the program was a great opportunity that provided him with a lot of knowledge in the field.

“The most exciting thing there for me was learning how to run a line and bucket truck and the scariest was climbing the 65 foot pole for the first time.”

After finishing his program, Crawford had an interview with Southside Electric Cooperative. He is employed with the cooperative today.

Harkins said the 11-week program was typically held three times a year before the coronavirus pandemic, but February’s class had to be postponed. The power line students from February just started their classes back up in mid-June, and the next round of classes is anticipated to begin in September.

Those interested in SVCC’s Power Line Worker program can visit https://southside.edu/power-line-worker or call Suzanne Shook at (434) 292-3101.