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In high school, Nolan Swank had an inkling he might want to work in the electric trade. The Edgerton, Ohio, native had an uncle who was an electrician, and his grandpa was an engineer with North Western Electric Cooperative.
Swank wasn’t sure if either of those roles specifically suited him. Then his mom spotted an ExploreAg opportunity advertised on Facebook at Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives’ Central Ohio Lineworker Training (COLT) facility.
“She asked me if I wanted to go, and my grandpa offered to take me,” he said. That day in October 2019 set the course for his future career. “Once I went up in the bucket, it was ‘game over.’”
Students learned at that ExploreAg experience about electric cooperatives in general, then split into five groups where they spent 30 minutes per station riding in a bucket truck, dressing for safety, building a crossarm, watching a drone demonstration and learning about energy advisory work for co-op members.
At the end of the day, Swank knew he wanted to be a lineman with the electric company. Now out of high school, he is currently working as a lineman apprentice at the same cooperative his grandpa, Neil Cape, recently retired from in Williams County. Once he successfully completes his four-year apprenticeship, he would rise to journeyman lineman status.
Swank said an experience with great teachers and an opportunity to try different aspects of a business like ExploreAg offered really “opens your eyes. If you’re on the fence, do it. It was an awesome experience.”
Rural Ohio and agriculture careers
It’s that kind of “aha!” moment that the weekend or weeklong ExploreAg programs can provide to those searching for a career tied to rural Ohio and agriculture. The innovative program is free to high school students who often don’t know what careers are available in the field.
“The ExploreAg program harkens to our roots,” said Doug Miller, vice president of statewide services for Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives, and an Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation board member.
It harkens back to the roots of Farm Bureau as well. It was Ohio Farm Bureau’s first Executive Secretary Murray Lincoln who helped lead the effort to bring electricity to Ohio’s countryside and not only improve farm operations but the quality of life for rural residents in the 1930s.
Improving the quality of life for rural communities was something that brothers Mike and Tim Taylor of Paulding County also had in mind when they participated with Swank that same day. The brothers knew they wanted to be linemen from a young age, when their electrician father installed a utility pole in the backyard.
Mike and Tim Taylor spent their youth climbing that pole and dreaming of a life as linemen for the electric company.
“It’s what I always wanted to do,” Mike said. It’s one thing to dream about a job. It’s a whole other thing to learn what it’s going to take to actually accomplish that dream. He is finishing his second year as a lineman after starting off as an apprentice in a 5-year program at Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative. The time spent learning the trade is critical, Mike said.
“Some of it is complicated, and one mistake could be life or death for you or your coworkers,” he said. He credits Kyle Hoffman and other instructors at COLT for giving descriptive, real-world information about the job as part of the ExploreAg experience.
So does his brother Tim, who is now a D-level line mechanic at American Electric Power in Fort Wayne, Ind. He also will be in training another four years.
“We got to talk to multiple linemen who have worked in the trade for a long time at the ExploreAg day,” he said. “It was really cool to sit and talk with them, as well as people from different departments to see the wide variety of what is out there.”
Tim works with a crew in a large territory in Indiana, and he loves it. Actually, all three men like and appreciate the crews they work with and the work they do.
“We get a lot of ‘trouble’ tickets and the crew will work through the night to troubleshoot, fix it and get the power back on,” Tim said. “It’s a cool feeling working side-by-side. It’s like a brotherhood. Someone needs help and we go chasing the trouble. It’s one big united front.”
ExploreAg, funded by the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation through the Fisher Fund for Lifelong Learning, introduces students to the various Ohio agriculture jobs and careers in science, engineering and technology in the food and fiber industry and engages them in actively pursuing career paths that can help them become a part of the sustainable future of agriculture. ExploreAg is open to students from varied backgrounds, with diverse skills and interests, and provides them with an opportunity to explore and understand available career paths in the agriculture and food industries. Students interested in ExploreAg weeklong camps and weekend experiences can visit exploreag.org for more information.
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