BY PAUL WESSLUND AND ANN FOSTER THELEN
The electricity in your home can seem like an impossible miracle to explain. But one way to understand it is to think about the variety of skills and types of jobs it takes to make power happen.
That kind of thinking can also be handy if you or someone you know is looking for a promising career.
Running electric utilities today takes just about every skill imaginable. Some jobs call for the physical ability to climb a utility pole and for others, the technical know-how to create intricate cybersecurity systems. Some require the interpersonal skills of talking with a co-op member about how they can lower their electric bill.
Other roles may require logistical knowledge to deliver essential equipment through a challenging supply chain.
An industry that depends on such a vast range of abilities offers job seekers a variety of career opportunities. Here are six reasons electric co-ops are a great place to work.
- Stability. You can count on homes and businesses needing electricity now and in the future. Energy careers offer excellent benefits and paths for career advancement. Employees typically stay in the industry for more than 15 years.
- Excitement. While utility work is reliable, it’s also at the cutting edge of innovation. Electrification is the centerpiece of the push for greener energy. The number of electric vehicles is doubling every year, which means new workforce skills are needed to figure out how to keep all those cars and trucks plugged in and charged up. Two of the 20 fastest-growing occupations are wind turbine technician and solar voltaic installer. More than $120 billion a year is being spent to modernize the U.S. electric grid to manage new patterns of electricity use.
- Variety. The skills needed in the utility industry range from an advanced college degree to trade school, apprenticeship and on-the-job training. And the variety of positions is staggering – accountants, social media managers, IT specialists, engineers and human resources professionals, to name a few. There are more unique positions as well, such as drone operators to inspect power lines, data analysts to coordinate the flow of electricity and power plant operators to oversee electricity generation.
- It’s local. Maintaining electric service needs to happen locally. That means that much of the work takes place near your hometown. Not only can a utility worker make a living and raise a family in the area they choose to live, if they decide to move to another part of the country, there will likely be energy career opportunities there as well.
- Satisfaction. Any lineworker will tell you when they've just climbed down from a pole in the middle of the night during a rainstorm, there's no better feeling than knowing the power outage you've just restored brought light and heat back into the homes of hundreds of people. The same goes for the utility truck dispatcher back at headquarters or the media specialist getting the word out about the status of power restoration. Utility workers can know they’re powering their neighbors and the nation.
- Not-for-profit business model The people behind the power at your electric co-op get to know even higher levels of job satisfaction. Electric co-ops offer a unique business model led by the members who use the electricity.
IOWA EMPLOYEES' PERSPECTIVES ABOUT WORKING FOR THEIR LOCAL ELECTRIC CO-OP
“I’ve worked for the cooperative for 20 years. In this time, I have witnessed electricity become increasingly important to our daily lives, from improving basic health and well-being to facilitating services like online banking to ordering groceries. Cooperatives are dedicated to their member-consumers. We are always working to improve the reliability of our distribution system and serve our members.”
“I appreciate the co-op philosophy that focuses on the seven cooperative principles, keeping members first and foremost in all decision-making. These principles guide us in everything we do, and it reflects on the success of the electric cooperative business model since 1938. I am part of a community working here and can reach out to any other electric cooperative in Iowa with any questions. ‘Iowa Nice’ shines brightly working in electric cooperatives.”
“The past 10 years working at the cooperative have been the most enjoyable of my working career. The opportunities to increase my knowledge and skills are invaluable. The atmosphere is like a family. Networking with my peers at other cooperatives has proven to be extremely helpful. Supporting our member-owners instead of working for ‘customers’ has been refreshing, and the cooperative principles, including concern for our communities, make us stand out.”
“I am honored to be able to work for an electric cooperative that serves the community in which I live. I love that decisions are made locally by a board of member-directors and that we are able to provide our members with safe and reliable power at the lowest possible price.”
“I enjoy the variety of each day. I have satisfaction in helping members daily and with long-term planning for our cooperative. Co-op employees are usually long-standing, which means I can have long-term relationships with my co-workers.”
“One of the reasons I like working for a co-op is the opportunity to work with a dedicated team with a common goal of improving our members’ lives. It is also rewarding to see the positive results from the improvements we have made to our distribution system over the years.”
“The best part of working in the cooperative world is being a part of a great team. Every job at my co-op is specialized, and every employee is committed to serving our members to the best of their ability. It's extremely satisfying to be a part of a dedicated and talented group of people who positively impact our local communities.”
Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. Ann Foster Thelen is the editor of Iowa Electric Cooperative Living.