Posted on Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Like so many boomers, thousands of power-line workers are getting ready to pull the plug. Their professional careers are nearing an end and they’re ready to embrace retirement.

But, who will replace them?

When the economy tanked in 2008, many Virginians looked to technology as the quickest way to expand their skill set and increase their marketability in a difficult job market. Interest in learning a trade, it seemed, took a backseat to learning how computer applications could revolutionize the workplace. Besides, learning a trade was something your uncle did, right?

Not anymore.

The demand for skilled power-line workers is high and it’s growing. The average lineman earns just over $71,000 a year. But the job requires intensive training and being outside in sometimes harsh and hazardous working conditions.

“It’s dangerous, difficult work, and not a lot of people want to do it,” says Brian Mosier, vice president of governmental affairs, Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives.

In response to the growing demand for power-line workers, Virginia’s Community Colleges are partnering with the state’s electric cooperatives to offer a new training program through Southside Virginia Community College.

The Virginia, Maryland, Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC) has requested both monetary and equipment donations from its 15 members to support the school while VCCS has offered $342,000 to help with equipment purchases.

The facility, which will be located near Blackstone, Va., will provide low-cost housing for the students who enroll in the program. The class will consist of a mix of indoor as well as outdoor instruction.

A pilot class is scheduled to begin next spring. Students who successfully complete the program will be issued industry-recognized credentials.

“The opportunity to learn the trade is tremendous,” says Keith Harkins, vice president of workforce development and continuing education at SVCC. “And for folks growing up in rural Virginia, it’s a career that will allow them to remain here.”

Mosier agrees, saying the availability of local talent is essential to the industry’s success.

“That’s generally the idea; to give younger folks a reason to stay in their local communities.”


*Imagery courtesy of'

Craig Butterworth

A native of Richmond, Craig Butterworth is an award-winning broadcast journalist and communications professional. He has worked as a spokesperson, staff writer and editor for a variety of non-profit and for-profit organizations throughout the Richmond area.

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