Electric cooperatives' leading supplier of pole- and pad-mounted distribution transformers is beefing up its workforce to help meet current and future demand for this vital component of the nation's power grid.

“Aging infrastructure, the rise in residential and commercial projects, and the increased electrification of vehicles and home comfort appliances will continue to increase, said Darrin Davidson, vice president of continuous improvement for Dyersburg, Tennessee-based ERMCO.

Founded to meet co-op demand for distribution transformers in the early 1970s, ERMCO is owned by Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc. and produces more than 600,000 units a year. The increasing demand means expanding its 2,000-employee labor force and updating fabrication capabilities at its nine production facilities.

“We are planning an entire extra shift, perhaps a third, at our Athens, Georgia, facility and are actively recruiting skilled workers, said Davidson. “Maintenance personnel are needed across the enterprise. These roles are particularly challenging to fill as the desired skills and experience in electrical and factory automation are in high demand.

ERMCO is urging its electric co-op and public power customers to manage their available inventories to ensure they can meet routine needs for replacement units. That's particularly challenging following late-season hurricanes and winter storms that can cause widespread outages and deplete local inventories.

“We cannot always fulfill 100% of customer requests, said Edward Brakmann, ERMCO's vice president of strategy and marketing. “The old paradigm of ordering, and hoping lead times are short, no longer applies.

ERMCO expects to add 260 positions at its original location in Dyersburg in 2024.

“On the professional services side, we are reaching out to talent from the electrical/transformer industry to work with ERMCO, said Toni Bonet, ERMCO's talent acquisition manager. She's also coordinating a series of career fair appearances at more than a dozen colleges and universities across the mid-South.

“By adding experienced talent alongside recent engineering grads to our teams, we are able to realize technical efficiencies while training others with the necessary skill sets to meet the demand for transformers, Bonet said.

But the company is also trying to fill scores of skilled trade and general labor positions to reduce the need for overtime.

“We are adding production associates to fill additional manufacturing lines needed to meet the increased demand,” said Chonda Smith, ERMCO's manager of talent acquisition and retention. “As our teams grow, the ERMCO enterprise will be in a better position to build more products through more efficient processes, and thus provide better service to our customers.”

To meet current transformer demand, ERMCO ships over 10,000 units a week. Longer lead times for larger orders and global material and component shortages have prompted changes in production runs. Customers are being advised to keep more transformers on hand to meet their immediate needs.

Potential production shortfalls, inventory shortages and global competition for critical supplies like grain-oriented silicon steel have also spurred discussions among industry leaders and prompted warnings to government officials of potential reliability threats to the nation's electric grid.

ERMCO is working with NRECA and its member co-ops to identify solutions and mitigate potential shortages. Besides adding more production capacity, the company has been actively supporting policy changes that officials believe are crucial to meeting future demand.

“The Department of Energy's recent guidance pushing for more energy-efficient transformers that use amorphous steel versus grain-oriented electrical steel is expected to further strain the market,” said Tim Mills, ERMCO's president and CEO. “Issues like access to labor, restrictive regulatory guidelines, and other factors that degrade the supply chain are a direct threat to utilities and communities alike.”