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Careers on the LINE Cooperatives offer exciting and stable job opportunities

By Magen Howard

n a bright spot for the nation’s economy, electric co-ops are re- cruiting and retaining talented people for jobs of all kinds. Some of the hiring is in response to Baby Boomer retirements—electric co-ops expect nearly 10 percent of linework- ers and almost 18 percent of engi- neers and operations staff will retire over the next five years, according to Russell Turner, principal, human capital issues, for the National Ru- ral Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), the service organization for the nation’s more than 900 elec- tric co-ops.


The Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD), a non-profi t group in Washington, D.C., that stud- ies labor shortages in the utility and nuclear power industries, predicts that 46 percent of existing skilled techni- cians and 51 percent of engineers in the electric and natural gas utilities may need to be replaced by 2015 be- cause of retirement or attrition. While the recent recession delayed some retirements, CEWD found only the timing of those retirements changed, not the estimated need for future replacements.

Other electric co-op workforce sec- tors are also impacted by turnover. Ac- cording to offi cials at the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, approximately 57 percent of CEOs/ managers will be eligible for retire- ment in the next fi ve to eight years.

It takes a village to run an electric system

While lineworkers are generally the most visible employees, it takes many more departments to effectively run an electric co-op. Electric distribution co-ops—those that directly serve you— employ more than 55,000 people. If you factor in power supply co-ops and various support groups, like statewide associations, electric co-ops have more than 70,000 folks on their payrolls.


Electric co-ops employ a median of 48 workers, with lineworkers compris- ing the largest single group of workers – 17, on average – followed by admin- istrative and clerical workers, which includes billing and account clerks, and engineering and operations em- ployees, according to NRECA. The typical co-op also has one IT profes- sional and one communicator. Co-ops need accountants and clerks to make sure bills—and employees— are paid and to keep fi nances in order. Communications and marketing pro- fessionals inform consumer-members and the general public, through vari- ous publications and meetings, about the co-op’s community activities as well as products and services offered. Member services and energy ser- vices employees take care of the needs and concerns of members—handling phone calls, bill payments, and of- fering home energy audits and other energy-saving solutions. Staking tech- nicians and engineers plot where new lines will be built, while purchasing employees maintain an inventory of equipment to keep the lights on and negotiate contracts. Information tech- nology professionals keep telecom- munications networks and computers running smoothly.

Women in the male-dominated workforce

Diane Schoenbauer, one of a hand-

ful of women in Minnesota certifi ed as a home energy auditor, works for Minnesota Valley Electric Coopera- tive in Jordan, Minn., in its demand- side management program (DSM). Schoenbauer spent seven years in marketing and communications at the co-op before accepting her current position.

Being a woman in a male-dominated

fi eld like energy auditing and working with DSM contractors, Schoenbauer admits she felt a need to be more pre- pared than the average person coming into the job. “My fi rst order of busi- ness was to cultivate relationships. I

Matt Martens is a Supervisory Communication and Data Acquisition technician for Tri-County Electric Co-op.

Bobbi Everett works for Oklahoma Electric Co-op as a customer service representative.

didn’t want anyone laughing at me or the co-op. When I pull up at a con- struction site with my hard hat, and they see me—a little 5-foot-5 blond— getting out of the car, I know some guys are gonna go, ‘What the heck!’ I take pride that I can alleviate their concerns right off the bat.” Nationally, about 10 percent of

electric co-op chief executives and energy auditors are female, although less than 1 percent of lineworkers are. Schoenbauer encourages more wom- en to consider careers that are tradi- tionally fi lled by men.

“I wish I would see more women in this type of position,” she comments. Continued on Page 7

Courtesy photo/ OEC

Courtesy photo/ TCEC

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