Part 1: The Early Years
How does someone go from 25-plus years in the utility business to becoming the Western Education Liaison for North Carolina 811? It was a journey I never expected.
When I started my career in the utility business, I was like any other young 20-year-old. I didn’t know what I really wanted to be in life. Heck, all I knew was I wanted to make money and be rich! Life isn’t that easy; hard work and dedication were needed. My stepfather, Carl Patterson, gave me what turned out to be some of the best advice I ever received, “work hard when you’re young and make what you can of yourself early in life and I guarantee you will glide like a plane in midair throughout your older years.” I followed that advice and, thankfully, it worked out pretty well for me.
In 1990, I went to Virginia Power and started as a grounds man in their construction department. Not knowing a thing about electricity, I started off as what they called a “grunt.” I joined Virginia Power with hopes of being a welder in a nuclear power plant in Virginia, but the powers that be didn’t see that in my future. There were days when co-workers would tell me, “I bet your parents sure are proud of you, going to college at night and digging ditches during the day.” Honestly, I was just glad to have a job and be making pretty good money. At that time, many of my friends had a college education but a lot of them didn’t have a career or a job of which they felt proud.
Fast forward almost 10 years – I’ve been in the line crew doing everything from setting poles to installing UG facilities for residential and commercial. Virginia Power was now known as Dominion Power and I got the chance to put some of my education to work with them. Several big transitions had happened and I was a lucky enough to be able to get into their design program. They trained me to design OH/UG power lines, street light designs, and 3-phase re-conducting. Coming from the construction side of the business, I had a pretty good upper hand on the competition. I had the chance to finish the Design Program early and that set my path to being an Associate Designer. Over the years, with hard work and dedication, I was promoted to Project Designer which created the opportunity to be exposed to many different roles. I had the chance to lead crews in storm restoration, design subdivision layouts, and move into a leadership role.
“Wow,” I thought. “A little ol’ kid who worked hard in high school and college is getting the chance to really perform!” I was pushing hard and trying to learn all aspects of the business. There is a saying I learned along the way, “Knowledge is power, and no one can take knowledge away from you.”
Over the years, I got to move on and work in North Carolina with one of the largest electric co-ops on the east coast, Energy United. I didn’t know much about co-ops and was used to working for an independently-owned utility. To put it mildly, it was a lot different. It was a great learning experience, but I didn’t realize that in a co-op you wear many hats. There are generally no departments dedicated to subdivision work, commercial or re-conducting. At a co-op, you do it all – which allowed me to gain a lot of additional experience along the way.
As technologies improved, Energy United wanted to start reading meters through a fiber network. Guess who was the lucky one who got in on the ground floor with that project? I was put in the role of overseeing the design plan and installation of close to 60 miles of fiber, both overhead and underground facilities. Great experience, but I didn’t know a thing about fiber! It was a serious learning curve.
I learned what fiber splicers were and that “snowshoes” are specialized cable equipment. Heck, I thought snowshoes were made for cool stuff on the slopes! There was a lot to learn. We did it as a team because it was new to all of us. And what a job we did! Our team finished the project early and under budget. The largest project I had ever been involved in was complete and it was time to move on. I moved home and took a role as a Project Manager/Scheduler.
I found the role of Project Management/Scheduler was my cup of tea and it allowed me to continue learning along the way. I was drawing up contracts and overseeing the work being done. I felt right at home. Then I met a guy who thought I would be good in the chemical business, and I agreed. “I took chemistry,” I thought. “This will be as easy as baking a cake!” I quickly discovered sales is one of the hardest jobs in any industry. I like talking to people, but trying to convince someone they need to buy something they might not need… that is hard work. Over time, I realized I missed the utility world more than I thought I would.
Like other candidates, I applied for a Liaison role with NC811 and put together a slide show to show those interviewing me what I knew about “Call 811 Before You Dig.” I was one of the lucky ones. I was chosen to spread the word about communication, safety, and coordination in my new role as Western Region Education Liaison for NC811.
In the next issue we get to the best part of my journey to 811. I will share what I learned in my first year in this new role.
This is the first article in a series exploring a Year in the Life of a Liaison. Brian Morehouse is the Western Region Education Liaison with NC811.