MEC Staff Meets with Governor at Power Line School
Cold, snowy weather was no deterrent as Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Dr. Meagan Healy, his chief workforce development advisor, traveled to Ft. Pickett in Blackstone
on March 14 to visit Southside Virginia Community College’s (SVCC) Power Line Worker (PLW) Training School.
The Governor was invited to the school to witness firsthand the benefits of community college workforce development programs and the workforce credentials grant program. He was hosted by officials from SVCC, Mecklenburg (MEC) and Southside (SEC) electric cooperatives, including MEC President and CEO John Lee and MEC Manager of District Operations Clint Card. MEC and SEC were instrumental in the school’s establishment, and they continue to serve in a critical role providing resources, expertise and student scholarships.
As the Governor met the current students and toured the outdoor training area, known as the “playground,” Lee, Card and SEC President and CEO Jeff Edwards explained the PLW program and reviewed the certifications and employment opportunities received by its graduates. The school has graduated over 100 students and with an impressive 99 percent having immediate employment opportunities, including a number of graduates who have been hired by the two founding cooperatives.
“This school exemplifies a public/private partnership, and we could not be more pleased with the school’s success,” Lee commented to the Governor, adding “It is incredibly gratifying to see these graduates joining the electric utility workforce and, in this case, the state earns a return on its investment because all these graduates become material taxpayers immediately upon earning their certifications here.”
“We appreciate the Governor’s interest in our school, and we recognize his interest in workforce development initiatives,” Lee added stating, “Southside Virginia needs additional workforce development opportunities that will provide the region’s sons and daughters employment opportunities close to home and family. Education and training may be our region’s only hope to return to economic prosperity and independence.”
Lee also took the opportunity to discuss with the Governor the matter of rural broadband access and the state’s digital divide and the cooperative’s growing role in addressing that issue. Through its subsidiary, EMPOWER Broadband, MEC will begin deploying fiber in several areas and will offer retail broadband access to a pilot area later this year. The cooperative was recently awarded a $2.6 million grant from the Tobacco Commission to bolster its fiber-to-the-premises offering.
This 11-week line worker pre-apprentice program, now in its third year of operation, provides Level 1 certification from NCCER (the National Center for Construction Education & Research), as well as commercial driver’s licenses, CPR/First Aid certification and OSHA safety training. At the recommendation of its advisory committee, the PLW program recently expanded to include chainsaw safety, with training provided by Penn Line.
“We’re proud to help launch these young people into a vital career that will enable them to stay in their rural communities,” said Keith Harkins, SVCC v.p. workforce and continuing education. Upcoming classes are scheduled to begin June 4 and Sept. 4, with low-cost on-site housing available for $14 to $16 a night.
For more information about the Power Line Worker Training School, visit http://www.southside.edu/content/power-line-worker-program or call SVCC’s Susan Early at (434) 292-3101.