In March 2016, the Power Line Worker School in Blackstone opened its doors as part of a novel partnership between Southside Virginia Community College and electric cooperatives.

Now, just a few years later, the school has sent more than 250 young men and women into the lineworker ranks following the Nov. 21 graduation of its 12th class.

The school “is an asset to the community, to the commonwealth and to the electric utility community because these graduates are in demand,” Ron White, Southside Electric Cooperative vice president of member and public relations, said at the graduation ceremony.

“We need them because they’re going to be the ones that keep the lights on,” White added.

About 175 family members, friends and co-op officials attended the ceremony, packing the officers club at Fort Pickett, near the training grounds, as beaming students displayed their diplomas.

The school is a public-private partnership between Virginia’s Community Colleges and the state’s electric cooperatives. It represents an investment of more $1 million in an area where employment opportunities are limited.

Support came from the co-ops, a state community college fund and then-Gov. Governor Terry McAuliffe’s inaugural Competition for Talent Solutions, and members systems of the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives continue to provide financial assistance and equipment for the school.

The 11-week course presents students with the opportunity to enter a skilled trades profession that brings well-paying jobs to rural areas and will be needed long into the future.

Prior to the graduation ceremony, some of the students demonstrated what they learned in the 11-week course on practice poles at the Southside Virginia Community College facility.

Prior to the graduation ceremony, some of the students demonstrated what they learned in the 11-week course on practice poles at the Southside Virginia Community College facility.

Among the areas of instruction: climbing techniques, electrical theory, aerial framing and rigging. Students also have the opportunity to earn valuable credentials such as a commercial drivers’ license, traffic-control flagging, occupational safety and CPR.

Dr. Keith Harkins, vice president for workforce development and continuing education at SVCC, credited Jeff Edwards, president and CEO of Southside Electric Cooperative (SEC), and John C. Lee Jr., president and CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC), as “really the ones who hatched this idea.”

The idea was developed in 2015, made a reality with the opening of the school in 2016, and with each subsequent class continues to grow a crop of new lineworkers.

To the class of 28 men and one woman who graduated on Nov. 21, featured speaker Gene Walden, operations vice president of Pike Electric, said, “You can take that experience you’re learning and go anywhere with it,” adding, “You’ve got a great opportunity for a great future.”