When lineworkers first entered the new Virginia, Maryland and Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives’ Training Center, their response was overwhelmingly positive.

“‘Awesome’ was the word I heard the most,” said John Medved, an instructor and former manager of safety training at the VMD association, based in Glen Allen, Virginia.

He agrees with the students. Comparing the center that was dedicated in May to the previous facility, he puts it this way: “We had a smartboard in a triple-wide [trailer]. Now we have a smart building that allows us to do so much more.”

The gleaming $1.5 million training center is the latest example of cooperative statewide association efforts to provide line crews with training and education on safe work practices by pooling financial and in-kind resources. In this case, Central Virginia Electric Cooperative leased land for the school to the statewide at a deep discount; the facility is located across the road from CVEC’s Palmyra district office.

“The building is a great investment in a number of ways,” said Gary Wood, president and CEO of Arrington-based CVEC. “It’s a deposit on the continuing investment co-ops are making in Fluvanna County. And it’s an investment among co-ops in our relationship because our strength comes from the partnerships we share.”

Whether through standalone facilities or programs at local community colleges, these statewide-managed solutions are helping co-ops respond to a national trend of retiring lineworkers. The model also results in minimal duplication of assets and the ability to respond quickly to changes in work practices.

These training center campuses include outdoor fields of climbing poles and equipped pole tops, permanently attached equipment like transformers and voltage regulators, live lines and an energized underground distribution system.

“We are constantly evaluating the curriculum to make sure it’s current with changes to compliance and best practices as the industry evolves,” said Farris Leonard, manager of job training and safety field services for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives. The Raleigh-based statewide association has run a longtime training program at Nash Community College in Rocky Mount.

Here’s a look at lineworker training programs operated by three statewide co-op associations.

Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Electric Cooperative Training Center

The new Fluvanna County-based center is the VMD association’s third training center. Its first two locations were a 15x15 classroom next to an aging vocational-technical center in the early 1990s, and, in 2013, three modular structures in Palmyra. Increasing lineworker retirements and the addition of 120,000 new accounts—the result of co-op buyouts of investor-owned utility territories—meant the association needed a larger, permanent space.

The new center’s three large classrooms—named Virginia, Maryland and Delaware—are equipped with interactive screens and smart podiums with built-in computer technology. In addition, a massive shop room can house a bucket truck and allow equipment training activities during inclement weather.

“It’s a more involved experience for students,” said Medved.

And with nearly year-round classes—training previously was only 14 weeks per year—thousands more co-op employees will pass through the center’s doors.

Central Ohio Lineworker Training (COLT) Center

Since 2017, the COLT training center has allowed apprentice and journeymen lineworkers at Ohio’s 24 electric co-ops to learn new skills or advance current ones regardless of the weather outside.

Located in the central part of the state behind the Consolidated Cooperative headquarters in Mount Gilead, the $1 million indoor facility opened in July 2017 and is a 7,500-square-foot-expansion of the statewide association’s training offerings.

Since 2004, when the facility first opened to train apprentices, hundreds of co-op employees have received certification in several operational disciplines. During that time, serious work-related injuries at Ohio co-ops have either continued to decline or stayed the same, even as industry averages have increased, says Dwight Miller, director of safety training and loss prevention at Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives in Columbus.

Hands-on apprenticeship and journeyman refresher training programs “have had a huge effect on improving the overall safety culture in Ohio,” said Miller. “We have two talented and dedicated full-time instructors teaching our guys how to do the job and how to do it right while using state-of-the-art facilities.”

Nash Community College Electric Lineman Technology Program

For 30 years, North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives have housed their training programs at local community colleges, first at Wake Technical Community College in 1984 and then at Nash Community College in 1998, where it still operates. The statewide develops the curriculum and owns and maintains the equipment, including overhead and underground training fields, a section of transmission line and a substation.

“We have a good relationship with [the college] and, logistically, the location works well for our 26 member-co-ops,” said Leonard.

The program offers 20-week “schools” that cover training at different skill levels in overhead and underground construction, leadership and safety and regulatory topics. Each year, more than 400 co-op employees attend the schools, some for an Electric Line Construction Technology Advanced Certificate or, with a few extra college course credits, an associate’s degree in the same discipline through the college.

Providing local training facilities also enables co-ops to attract and retain talent in rural communities, said Leilani Todd, vice president of human resources at Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative in Chase City, Virginia, and executive council member of the Center for Energy Workforce Development, a nonprofit consortium of energy utilities.

“Cooperatives are community-driven, and so it’s important for us to give our young people opportunities to thrive within the communities they’re from. By pulling together, it’s going back to the cooperative principles and looking at what’s best for us as we move to the future.”