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Electric co-op aims to recruit students

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Sunday, August 25, 2019

An official with a rural power cooperative said when one asks preschoolers or elementary school students about what they want to be in life, the response often is a firefighter or a police officer because those are the people they see at work.

“So we’ve got to get ourselves out there and let them know there are other occupations, be able to let them experience that with the hands-on ideas,” said Lisa Tolson, vice president for human resources at Edgecombe-Martin County Electric Membership Corp.

Tolson was one of a group of corporate leaders who spoke at the recent Strategic Twin-Counties Education Partnership business and education summit at Nash Community College.

The history of Edgecombe-Martin County EMC can be traced back to 1936, thanks to efforts by the late R.V. Knight, a prominent farmer in Edgecombe County and an N.C. State College alumnus.

The co-op is the oldest in North Carolina and one of the oldest in the nation.

Tolson told the STEP gathering she believes people have realized technology is booming and the students of today are on a different level.

Tolson said Edgecombe-Martin County EMC about a decade ago realized the co-op had basically zero percent employee turnover and started seeing a trend, especially in the field of line technicians, of finding good people wanting to come and remain on the job.

Edgecombe-Martin County EMC responded by creating a partnership with educators, starting with the high schools and with Nash Community College being a huge promoter.

“We actually went out to the high schools in Edgecombe County, Martin County, the areas that we serve, talked to the students about the career in a line technician field,” she said. “In doing that, we realized we needed to do something to have those students have a hands-on experience.”

She told of the co-op building a worksite at the co-op’s location off N.C. 33 to show the pupils the power lines, the equipment put on the lines and the tools used to build and maintain the equipment.

She said extensive sessions were conducted, with different groups going in and out to give them an idea of what the line crews must do daily.

“So they did have an opportunity to use to some of the hand tools,” she said.

“They were able to ride in the bucket truck, up in the air,” she said. “And I think the teachers enjoyed it as much as the students. But the students were able to see that there is an occupation there.”

She said the co-op will try to use the worksite off N.C. 33 twice a year.

Tolson emphasized the co-op is making sure students see the electronics part and that there is more than a physical demand side to the job.

“We have iPads on every line truck that goes out into the field,” Tolson said. “So they’re able to see that part of it. We have drones that actually monitor the right-of-way for the system. We use that during outages.”

She noted some students enroll in Nash Community College’s line construction technology program.

“And we also are using the internships that are available,” she said.

She said the ApprenticeshipNC program has a program for high school students in which if they pre-register for line construction technology school, funding is available to help pay for their education.

Tolson also made clear the co-op hopes all of this might result in careers not just at Edgecombe-Martin County EMC but locally and throughout the surrounding areas.

“Any way we can help others get into this program, have a hands-on site, we’d be welcome to having you come in and look at what we have,” she said.

She said the generation of today has people moving on to other jobs if those jobs offer even a 20-cent or a 25-cent per hour pay increase.

Edgecombe-Martin County EMC offers great salaries and benefits packages.

“So just being able to maintain those employees is our goal,” she said.

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