As high school and college graduates search for jobs, there is no guarantee they will receive fair pay, benefits and opportunities for growth. Young employees often have to sacrifice one or all of these to gain experience that can qualify them for a career move that meets their income requirements and professional goals.
At co-ops and public power organizations, young professionals can have it all while building a lifelong career. A new generation of employees is entering the utility workforce, bringing with them an eagerness to learn the industry while receiving job benefits offered to working professionals of all ages and experience levels.
Three new employees at Mohave Electric Cooperative in Bullhead City, Arizona, say they did not think they would work in the electric industry. Yet they have come to realize how the compensation, benefits, growth opportunities and work environment differ from other employers.
Their employment at the co-op is also an opportunity to build a career in the community where they grew up.
Member Service Representative Grace Garcia, 21, did not have industry experience or a college degree, but she came on board with customer service skills and a willingness to learn her new role.
“I didn’t necessarily know this job, but they took the time to train me,” she says. “If I’d had to go to college for five years, I wouldn’t be here at this age. I think it’s really nice they gave me a chance.”
Grace, who was hired in June 2021, has learned how the cooperative operates so she can address member needs. She cross trains with the billing department and sees a clear path to her growth at the co-op.
“I like the math and the work that you have to do figuring out different people’s usage,” she says. “This is more of a career than a job. I know you can move up.”
Bernie Oviatt was hired as a computer technician in December 2019. His reputation as a student helped him gain employment at MEC. Bernie attended Mohave Community College to earn an associate degree in information technology. That’s where he met Heath Barker, Mohave Electric’s chief information officer, who was his college instructor. When Bernie applied, Heath remembered him from class.
Bernie received much of his job training from Heath. Now 25, he has enjoyed learning about the industry and the duties of other utility departments.
“Everyone works together,” Bernie says. “Everyone helps each other out—even if we aren’t in the same field.”
Teamwork and knowledge-sharing extend beyond the cooperative workplace. As not-for-profit organizations, public power utilities are dedicated to serving their communities. That was something Julia Garringer, 25, learned early in her role and is a motivator to build her career at MEC.
Julia attended Northern Arizona University and earned a bachelor’s in creative media and film with a screenwriting emphasis. After college, she was a production assistant for the show “Sister Wives” for a year before moving back to Bullhead City.
She started an online master’s degree program in technical communication at Arizona State University while looking for a career-worthy position in her hometown. That is when she saw a posting for a public affairs coordinator position at MEC.
“MEC was a name I had grown up with, but I didn’t know what a cooperative was and what it stood for,” Julia says. “I started researching and found out it is one of the most stable and interesting jobs in this area.”
Julia started at the co-op in May 2021. While attending monthly community events, she found a niche connecting with members, some of whom are familiar faces from her childhood.
“I love to interact with the community,” Julia says. “It’s a member-owned utility, so everything that the cooperative does is to the benefit of its members.”
Within her first six months at the co-op, Julia knew she wanted to move into the energy-efficiency department. In January, she was hired as energy management specialist. For two weeks, she trained with her predecessor, Steve Bouman, before he retired from his 21-year MEC career.
“I think that’s what is so great about Mohave Electric in general,” Julia says. “They always put their best foot forward training people. Being able to train with someone with so many years in the field was a phenomenal opportunity for me.”
Julia is responsible for helping members improve their energy efficiency, participate in renewable energy and rebate programs, and save on their electricity bills. The role offers daily face-to-face interaction with members—an environment Julia thrives in.
“One of my favorite things is the problem-solving every day,” Julia says. “We’re working to solve their energy problems together to assist them, which is basically the cooperative model. We’re here to serve them.”
From their time spent at the co-op, Grace, Bernie and Julia feel valued as employees. The member-driven, collaborative work environment is what has kept many of their colleagues at the co-op for most of their careers.
Julia notes there are several employees who didn’t expect a career path at the utility but have spent upwards of 40 years working there as the utility has continued offering fair pay, good benefits and opportunities for growth.
“The benefits are phenomenal,” Julia says. “That is something you typically don’t find anymore. (Mohave Electric) is supporting you in your health, supporting you in your career, and supporting you in your family life. That is a huge difference than any other job I have had.”