The jobs most people likely think of when they consider working at the local electric cooperative either require advanced electrical engineering degrees or involve climbing poles and working in potentially hazardous conditions — which might make working for the co-op seem either not very attractive or not realistically attainable, depending on someone’s education, training, and mindset.
In reality, though, neither impression could be further from the truth. While it’s true that line work can be both difficult and dangerous, and electrical engineers are vital to the process of reliably delivering electricity to co-op homes and businesses, there are plenty of other positions that can lead to rewarding co-op careers.
For example, as a key accounts representative at Lancaster-based South Central Power Company, Jody Williams performs job functions such as member service, business development, and event planning — even employee relations at times.
“Key accounts representatives generally serve as points of contact for our larger members, like schools, industries, and businesses, and our job is to do everything we can to support their needs,” Williams says. “As co-op employees, though, we’re also ready to pitch in anywhere when the need arises — collaborating and being helpful to each other, because there are a lot of moving pieces and parts that go into just being the co-op.”
Along with the aforementioned lineworkers and engineers, most co-ops employ:
- Member service representatives, who answer members’ questions on the phone or in person, help them understand their bills, and process payments.
- Information technology professionals, who ensure the safety, stability, and efficiency of the co-op’s computer and other electronic equipment, networks, and software.
- Human resources professionals, who recruit and hire talent and manage employee programs and benefits.
- Accounting and finance professionals, who keep the company’s books and pay the bills.
- Marketing and communications professionals, who keep the membership informed about co-op news, events, and programs.
- Energy advisors, who conduct energy audits and help member with high bill complaints.
- Geographic information specialists, who ensure co-op maps, outage management, and field inventories are up to date.
- Safety and compliance specialists, who ensure the co-op employees operate the electric system safely and according to state and federal laws.
Among the 25 electric distribution cooperatives based in Ohio and West Virginia, three co-op-owned power plants, and the statewide association that serves all of them, co-ops employ more than 1,500 people. Countless more work for co-ops by contracting individually for specific services or as employees of companies that do work for the co-ops.
The 24 electric cooperatives that power rural Ohio are focused on improving quality of life for their members and ensuring the long-term prosperity of the communities they serve. That focus, employees say, is what makes cooperatives different from other workplaces. When a team is focused on a common goal, especially one that makes a positive impact on communities they love, it often results in fulfilled employees.
As someone who recruits and hires talent, Robyn Tate, director of human resources and community relations at Holmes-Wayne Electric Cooperative in Millersburg, has an acute awareness of the characteristics of those who surround her.
“Cooperative employees are the salt of the earth. You truly do gain another family when you work at a co-op,” Tate says. “Our jobs go far beyond providing power.”
“I love being part of the co-op,” Williams says. “I love when we get out there in the community, meet people, and pull together when it’s needed. I’m surrounded by people who genuinely want to help each other and help in the community. It’s really rewarding to see how hard these men and women work.
“I’m glad to be able to say, ‘I work for the co-op,’ and know that I’ve helped.”
Because electric cooperatives operate mostly in smaller towns and in more rural areas, they’re important to the economic well-being of those areas both as employers and as contributors to the overall economy. A new report commissioned by the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, in fact, calls co-ops “crucial engines of economic development both nationally and at home in their local communities.”
The report, Economic Powerhouses: The Economic Impacts of America’s Electric Cooperatives, details how the country’s approximately 900 consumer-owned, not-for-profit, and democratically governed electric co-ops contribute to the local and national economies. Within the counties they serve, according to the report, co-ops supported jobs for nearly 424,000 people earning $33 billion in pay and benefits annually and contributing an average of $75 billion per year to local economies from 2018 to 2022. They also pay about $1.3 billion annually in state and local taxes.
In Ohio alone, co-ops also have contributed more than $1.7 million to local charitable causes, and have returned more than $37 million to members in capital credits.