The Future Co-op Workforce
One of our ecoLINK fiber technicians inspects and prepares the glass fibers that make up our internet infrastructure to be spliced together.

In the 84-year history of East Central Electric Cooperative, we have never been closer to the challenges and opportunities we faced in our founding decade.

East Central Electric is experiencing rapid growth in the number of members we serve and we’re building a fiber network to reach all of them. We’re investing in a workforce that will face challenges and adapt to new technologies that we cannot yet conceive.

“As a co-op, our approach to workforce development is shaped by our seven Cooperative Principles,” ECE General Manager Tim Smith said. “Primarily by our fifth principle: Education, Training, and Information.”

The co-op’s multi-faceted approach to promoting education, training, and information begins in elementary school through the use of youth programs that introduce local children to electrical safety.

“We are an active partner in education for the 44 school districts in our service territory,” ECE Manager of Member Relations Katherine Russell said. “By engaging students in the classroom and growing with them, we give a face to the power of the co-op business model and the many types of careers available at electric cooperatives.”

East Central’s partnerships in education extend beyond public school to our local trade schools and universities.

This year the co-op’s working relationships with Wes Watkins Technology Center in Wetumka and Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology in Okmulgee led to the creation of a new Advanced Fiber Technician training program at both schools that will give students another pathway toward a rewarding career, whether they come to East Central or go to one of the many other telecom companies in the state. Enrollment is open now for classes November 28 through December 8.

Instead of requiring a full semester or year of class time, the digital fiber splicing and digital fiber install courses can be completed in just two weeks. The condensed style of the course is set up to allow local telecom companies and cooperatives to send current employees for training alongside individual community members who want a crash course in an in-demand trade skill.

Wes Watkins Workforce and Economic Development Director Mike Lindley said, “A beauty of our career tech and our Workforce and Economic Development Program is the ability to offer customized industry training programs with flexible schedules and a minimal number of hours by harnessing partnerships with our local industries and businesses.”

“Partnering with other institutions allows us to pool our resources and create programs that benefit the communities we serve,” Lindley said.

Wes Watkins Superintendent Vic Woods added, “That partnership between industry, OSUIT, and us is what got this fiber technician program off the ground. I don’t think any one of us could have done this on our own.”

At OSUIT, educational opportunities in engineering, information technology, and high-voltage line technician training have helped prepare students for jobs at East Central Electric Cooperative and other co-ops throughout the state. 

East Central Electric Cooperative strongly believes that empowering our communities with the education, training, and information they will need for future careers is critical, not only to the future workforce of the cooperative, but also to the quality of life of the members we serve.