Across every city and town in the U.S., miles upon miles of power lines stretch across our streets and into our homes. Most of us take them for granted. They are a given in our modern world but maintaining and updating that electrical infrastructure requires manpower, specialized knowledge and a team of administrators, communicators and logisticians to ensure the power flows where it is needed most.
Before you polish your next resume, take a look at these career fields at your local utilities.
Advancements in technology allow utilities to communicate with consumers during blackouts via social media, push messaging or update the utility’s website.
Utilities need communications and marketing professionals to be the voice for consumers, while linemen work to deliver power.
“The relationship between a utility and consumers relies on transparency,” says Jeff Marshall, communications specialist with Clearwater Power Co. in Lewiston, Idaho. “Consumers need to know about service interruptions, costs, incentives, safety, and helpful programs or services.”
Jeff earned a degree in graphic design from Boise State University and worked in advertising for 10 years before accepting an opportunity at Clearwater Power. The co-op needed someone who could do more than what had traditionally been expected of the position.
“We’re not big enough to have specialists in any one thing,” Jeff says. “One week I might be working on a press release, the next I might be designing art, the next I could be doing something else. The more hats you wear, the more valuable you will be.”
Jeff functions as a one-stop-marketing team for Clearwater Power—with responsibilities that include graphic design, website development, social media, feature writing, technical writing, photography, illustration and public speaking. Other utilities have communications teams with six or more people to serve their members.
“My hats are mostly related,” Jeff says. “Sometimes your marketing person is also your rebate specialist or rebate assistant. You need to be willing to provide the utility what it needs in the moment. Take advantage of any training or cross-training opportunity you can.”
Jeff suggests doing some research before deciding communications at a utility is the right career for you.
“From the outside, it might look like a fixed industry, but there are so many regulatory and safety changes and people who are generating their own power on our grid that it’s really important you know what is going on in the industry,” Jeff says.
Thomas Edison may have been the first to harness electricity to produce the long-lasting lightbulb in 1879, but the electrical grid has since grown into an industry that powers homes and businesses for more than 320 million Americans.
With the growth, engineers had their hands full redesigning and expanding infrastructure to meet increased loads.
“At our co-op, we’re responsible for the engineering and operations at the utility,” says Trevor Parke, engineering and operations manager for United Electric Co-op in Heyburn, Idaho.“Engineers do the planning. We determine what areas we need to upgrade and modify. We design new line extensions to serve new customers, and we coordinate with the line crews to make sure it gets done right.”
Trevor’s interest in utilities began as a child due to his father’s work as a lineman. It led him to pursue a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Idaho. He chose classes related to the power industry as often as possible, but he had to work his way up and around to make it to his current position.
“I worked for a communications co-op for a couple of years but always had an eye on utilities and took this opportunity as soon as it was available,” Trevor says. “I like the construction end of things—managing projects and following them from start to finish—but it’s a challenging field. We’re constantly building a better mousetrap—making this process better, safer and more reliable.”
One signifigant contribution engineers bring to their utilities is a focus on safety above all else.
“I specify how all of our power lines are to be constructed within National Electric Safety Code standards,” Trevor says. “Safety and reliability are my reason for being here. We follow state and local laws to make sure installations are safe.”
While the position is rewarding and calls for outside-the-box thinking, Trevor warns this career track is one of the most educationally challenging.
“You just have to ask yourself, ‘Am I willing to go through the education, time and sacrifice to get the degree for this type of job, and will I be happy with it at the end of the day,’ ” Trevor says. “You really need to have the ability, desire and passion for the position.”
Those miles of electrical lines don’t put themselves together. Without the men and women who climb the poles, trim the trees and work the lines, the electricity-rich world we live in ceases to exist.
Unlike other utility careers, lineworkers spend most of their time outdoors maintaining your electrical infrastructure during rain, snow, blistering heat and natural disasters.
“I enjoy working outside, completing a job and getting the power back on if there has been a storm,” says Kay Hill, United Electric Co-op’s line superintendent. “Getting service back to our customers and seeing how much they appreciate it is really where the gratification comes from.”
Kay, who is celebrating 40 years of service in the industry, became interested in linework as a child after traveling with his father, a lineman, on after-hours calls.
“This industry has been very good for me,” Kay says. “It’s taken care of me my whole life, and it allowed me to provide for my family. It’s not an easy career. It’s hard and it’s dangerous, but the industry has really come along the last 20 years and really made it safe. That is always the priority.”
Some of Kay’s best experiences have been when he’s had to leave home to help neighboring utilities restore power after natural disasters.
“In 2006, we took a four-man crew and helped a neighboring utility in Jarbidge, Nevada,” Kay says. “They had a forest fire go through and burn down miles of power lines. We are a neighboring utility, so we are friends with all their employees. It’s a remote area, and we couldn’t get any bucket trucks into the area. We had to use a backhoe to dig and set up all the poles by hand. It was very labor-intensive, but it was really satisfying to get work done.”
Those interested in a career as a lineworker often start at a lineman’s trade school. Kay recommends Northwest Lineman College. In the past few years, his utility hired nine lineworkers who graduated from that institution.
United Electric also hosts an intern program every summer. The co-op highers high school juniors and seniors to experience life as a lineworker.
These are just a few examples of the many careers offered in the utility industry. Before you search digital job boards, give your local utility a call and learn what career opportunities are open to you while giving back to your community.