Like many high school students overwhelmed by the options from which to choose, Kenny McMichael was undecided on which career path to take. Like the flip of a switch, that all changed during a four-hour presentation during a school field trip to Community Electric Cooperative. One might say he saw the light.
A co-op line crew explained the importance of safety and communication, and also provided a live demonstration. “That’s when I made my mind up that I wanted to be a lineman,” says McMichael. The former baseball player was especially intrigued by the emphasis on teamwork.
Following a recommendation from Community Electric CEO Steve Harmon, McMichael enrolled in the Power Line Worker Program at Southside Virginia Community College’s Blackstone campus. He learned some electricity basics, how to safely and correctly climb a power pole, and earned his Class-A commercial driver’s license.
McMichael joined a contractor crew traveling for work for a short period until he saw an opening at Community Electric Cooperative, where his journey began. The men who inspired him were now leading his crew. A smaller electric cooperative, CEC has two seven-person crews that maintain the co-op’s system of 1,614 miles of lines. McMichael and his crew have primarily been working on installing and maintaining underground lines.
“My role is either to run the excavator or trencher or laying the pipe, running wire, making up the transformer,” says the apprentice journeyman. “Everyone will do it all. It’s a total team effort on an underground crew.”
Although new in his career, McMichael has already experienced the Virginia, Maryland and Delaware electric cooperatives’ mutual-aid program, which is part of a nationwide disaster response network of electric co-ops. McMichael recalls how Community Electric was on the receiving end of assistance when Tropical Storm Isaias came through southeastern Virginia. He and his crewmates recently provided much-needed assistance to neighboring co-ops in Southside Virginia following a historic ice storm.
McMichael encourages other young men and women unsure of their career paths and who are willing to work hard to consider an electric cooperative. “A co-op is like a family,” he says. “They make sure you get home safely every night.”