Five Hundred and Counting

Five Hundred and Counting

By Quentin R. Johnson, Ph.D.

Southside Virginia Community College is proud to announce that its Power Line Worker Training Program celebrated its 500th graduate this month. The graduation ceremony was held on Thursday, April 20, 2023 at Pickett Park inside Fort Barfoot in Blackstone. We were excited to have the new Chancellor of the Virginia Community College System, Dr. David Doré in attendance.

Graduation speaker, John Lee, President/CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative provided words of encouragement to the graduates stating that electric utility line work is among the most noble and demanding careers. In conclusion of his speech Lee said, “I congratulate and honor each of you, and hope to leave you with this most important message of all, always put safety first and to that rule there can be no exceptions.”

Jacob Belcher, a current student, explains why he chose the PLW program. “I wanted to begin a career that would set up my future, and going through the Power Line Worker program is the doorway to beginning that career.”

The PLW program does indeed open doors for students. Jason Loehr, President/CEO of Southside Electric Cooperative, notes, “The Power Line Worker Training program has provided a regional pipeline of line workers that has benefited Southside Virginia and Southside Electric Cooperative. Approximately 25% of SEC’s line workers graduated from this rewarding program.  SEC, the electric utility industry, and the Commonwealth of Virginia have been rewarded with the school’s positive impact, and we look forward to its continued growth.”

SVCC launched the PLW program in 2016 with help from a grassroots initiative that included the Virginia Maryland Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives, Nottoway County, and funding from a state grant. As Virginia’s first in-state training program for power line workers, the program continued to expand and grow. Today, the FastForward program operates with ongoing support from VMDAEC, Dominion Energy, the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, and a host of private companies. This true public-private collaboration demonstrates how much can be accomplished when dedicated partners join hands.

The 11-week PLW curriculum incorporates classroom instruction and hands-on training. It is a physically demanding program that requires heavy lifting, climbing, and outdoor activities in all weather conditions. Graduates earn important industry-recognized credentials, including a Commercial Driver's License (CDL).

To date, 95% of the graduates have been initially employed by 71 different companies. They have come from 56 counties and 13 cities across the Commonwealth. Overwhelmingly, these program completers stay in Virginia to live, work, and pay taxes.

The program has also led to the creation of a pathway to an Associate Degree in Industrial Technology. Students get a boost toward degree completion by receiving academic credit for prior learning related to experiences and training in the electric utility industry.

Caroline Campbell, an August 2021 PLW graduate, currently works for Dominion Energy. She says, "I wanted to become a power line worker because I saw the opportunity to grow in a career that was uncommon for a woman. When I started the Power Line Worker Training Program at SVCC, I didn't even know how to use a wrench, but the instructors welcomed me with open arms. I learned a lot, I climbed a lot, and I use what I learned from the class every day."

While we’re excited about the PLW program’s 500th graduate, we’re also looking forward to building on that success. The next two program start dates are 6/5/2023 and 9/5/2023. Grant funding and scholarships are available to assist qualifying students with tuition requirements, and onsite housing can be arranged. If you are interested in more information, contact Suzanne Shook (434-292-3101;
Dr. Quentin R. Johnson is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the City of Emporia. He can be reached via email at

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