Month: October 2021

Co-ops Struggle to Fill Job Openings Amid Pandemic-Related Economic Trends

Early retirements and a desire by employees to transform their lifestyles—economic trends spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic—have made it tougher for some electric cooperatives to fill job openings.

Citizens Electric Corp. in Perryville, Missouri, recently lost about a half-dozen journeymen linemen to retirement or to private contractors that pay a bit more, offer or require large amounts of overtime and provide a chance to travel the nation building transmission lines.

“I do think the pandemic has had an impact,” said Curt Iffert, the co-op’s vice president of operations. “Some of the people who had an inclination to travel or move to a different area seized the opportunity.”

Those contractor jobs offer as much as 40 hours of lucrative overtime pay a week, which allows journeymen to earn much more than they would working a typical 40-hour week at a co-op for $80,000 to $100,000 a year, he said.

“I don’t think you’re going to do that forever,” Iffert said about the contract work. “Eventually, you’re going to burn out with that kind of lifestyle. They may opt to come back someday. But it’s going to take some time.”

The struggle to fill job openings is not confined to lineworkers.

Columbia Rural Electric Association in Walla Walla, Washington, recently got just seven applicants for a Geographic Information Systems technician. The last time the co-op advertised for a GIS tech, it had five times that many, said Manager of Engineering Grant Glaus. The job pays more than $50,000 a year.

“It just seems like there’s a big supply of jobs right now, so the demand we’re seeing from job applicants is down,” Glaus said.

High demand for warehouse workers nationwide has also had an impact on co-ops.

An entry-level warehouse job opening that pays $30 an hour attracted 20 job applicants instead of the 100 that Iffert expected.

“This is an industrywide problem that’s affecting investor-owned and public utilities, too,” he said. “I haven’t talked to anybody who is flooded with people banging on their door to be hired.”

The pandemic has also had an impact on hiring co-op CEOs and other senior staff, said Leigh Taylor, director of management services for NRECA Executive Search.

Early in the pandemic, she said, CEOs who had been thinking about moving to other co-ops turned down those opportunities because they didn’t want to leave their existing co-ops during an uncertain time.

“That loyalty was definitely a reflection of who we are as co-ops,” Taylor said.

As things got better, many CEOs who had been planning to retire in a few years opted to do it right away, creating more openings to be filled, she said. More than 225 co-op general managers and other top executives started within the last two years.

The key to finding new leaders may demand that co-op directors look beyond “a 40-year-old version of their beloved, long-serving CEO who is retiring,” Taylor said.

“I ask boards, ‘what competencies do you want in your next leader to meet the needs of your cooperative in the coming years? And if that looks different than what you’ve had before, be open to hiring someone with different skills.’”

Erin Kelly is a staff writer for NRECA.

Jackson Energy Cooperative wins Beautify the Bluegrass Governor’s Award

The restoration of Beattyville City Park by volunteers from Jackson Energy Cooperative has been named the winner of the 2021 Beautify the Bluegrass Governor’s Award by Governor Andy Beshear and Kentucky Electric Cooperatives.

More than 45 Jackson Energy Cooperative employees volunteered 630-man-hours over a two-day span to help restore the Beattyville City Park after it was submerged and devastated by historic flooding earlier this year. The park was left in total disarray and was no longer safe for children in the community. The flood waters left behind damaged fencing, broken equipment and mounds of sand that covered everything from the top of the slides to the gutters on the shelter.

Under the guidance of Beattyville Mayor Scott Jackson, Jackson Energy Cooperative employees worked alongside several City of Beattyville employees to reconstruct the required safety fall-zone around each piece of play equipment, shoveled tons of sand and a truckload of mulch, repaired fencing, pressure-washed the play equipment and shelter building, revitalized the landscaping and added a final touch of paint.

“I am proud to partner with Kentucky’s electric cooperatives to support homegrown beautification efforts across the commonwealth and appreciate the cooperative spirit of Beautify the Bluegrass,” Beshear said in a video posted on his social media channels. “When we say “Team Kentucky,” this is what we’re talking about, Kentuckians who care about their communities and take action to help. All of the projects deserve recognition, and the work by these volunteers truly exemplifies concern for community. I am so pleased to present Jackson Energy Cooperative with the 2021 Beautify the Bluegrass Governor’s Award.”

“The employees of Jackson Energy understand the importance of a strong community and we are committed to doing our part,” says Carol Wright, president and CEO of Jackson Energy. “It was our privilege to work alongside the leaders of Beattyville-Lee County to restore their city park and to give a vital piece of their community back to them. When given the opportunity to give back, we are ready to make a positive impact for the families we call neighbors.”

Kentuckians voted for their favorite project on from among six finalists:
• McDougal Lake Trail Cleanup and Beautification (Hodgenville) – Knob Creek Conservancy
• Ohio County Park amphitheater stage reconstruction (Hartford) – Big Rivers Electric Corporation volunteers
• Lake Liberty transformation (Liberty) – Liberty Tourism and Trail Town Task Force
• The Monarch Mural (Franklin) – Franklin-Simpson Garden Club and volunteers
• Beattyville City Park restoration (Beattyville) – Jackson Energy volunteers and City of Beattyville
• Leslie County Community Canoe Cleanup (Leslie County, Middle Fork Kentucky River) – Organized by Kammy, Wyatt, Gabriella, and Jackson Ostrander, community volunteers

Kentucky Electric Cooperatives, the statewide association of Kentucky’s 26 locally owned and operated electric cooperatives, joined the “Beautify the Bluegrass” effort in 2018, in partnership with the Governor’s Office, because the initiative’s goals align with the cooperatives’ mission to improve quality of life in the communities they serve.

“Cooperatives are led by, belong to and were built by the communities we serve,” says Chris Perry, president and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. “Our member co-ops are excited to partner with Gov. Beshear to recognize Kentuckians who roll up their sleeves and complete beautification projects because they care about their community.”