The Super Tuesday primary wasn’t the only thing making news on March 1st. Virginia’s Community Colleges began their 50th anniversary year, and most importantly, it was the official opening of the Power Line Worker Training School at Fort Pickett, VA.
For a lot of folks in rural Southside Virginia and the Blackstone area in particular, the latter constituted the day’s biggest headline.
The school, a public-private partnership between Virginia’s Community Colleges and the state’s electric cooperatives, represents a more than $1 million investment in an area where employment opportunities are limited compared to other, more densely-populated parts of Virginia.
And as Virginia’s Community Colleges celebrate their 50th Anniversary, the power line training is one more tool to boost educational attainment through workforce credentials.
18-year old Lewis Carwile, one of 12 students participating in the inaugural power line worker training program, grew up in nearby Charlotte Courthouse and has been raising cattle for most of his life. He says completing the program is his ticket to a promising career.
“Based on everything I’ve researched and the people I’ve talked to, it’s a very comfortable life. It’s not an easy life but it’s a comfortable life. It’s a very fulfilling job.”
And a potentially lucrative one. Southside Virginia Community College President Dr. Al Roberts, whose college is overseeing the program, says the earning potential for the students is substantial.
“The pay is tremendous. The students will start off making around $50,000 a year and well over $100,000 a year with overtime once they become experienced linemen. It’s a great opportunity for middle class jobs.”
Instructor Clyde Robertson, himself a former lineman, says the 11-week program will focus on the basics.
“Not only are they going to learn line work, they’re also going to learn safety. We want everybody to go home just like they came in – safe and sound. We’re also going to teach them teamwork.”
18-year old Luke Storey, who lives in Prince George County, says he’s ready for the challenges that lie ahead.
“All my life, I’ve been working out in the elements and I don’t really mind it. I don’t mind heights and I like giving back to my community and helping out when they’re in need.”
Jeff Edwards, CEO of Southside Electric Cooperative, says students who complete the program will earn certifications. They’ll also be CPR and traffic-flagging certified.
“In rural areas of Virginia, there aren’t a lot of jobs and many of those aren’t well-paying. So, this is our opportunity to give these kids a chance to enter a profession that will sustain them and their families for many years to come.”
Will Jordan, a 20-year old Louisa native, will be making the 90-minute journey each day for the next two-and-a-half months. He says the prospects of working in hazardous weather conditions don’t bother him.
“I respect it but it doesn’t really scare me. I like the excitement. I don’t want a boring office job. I want something that’s going to be exciting and different every day.”
For Robertson, working as a lineman is a calling.
“When you go out there and you put those lights on, that’s just as good a feeling as getting a paycheck. To me, anyway. You’ve done something to help humanity.”
(top photo, L to R: power line training students Luke Storey, Will Jordan, and Lewis Carwile)
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