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Recruiting Experiences at Matanuska Electric Association

Shirley Akelkok's picture
Recruiting & Workforce Development Program Manager Matanuska Electric Association

Matanuska Electric Association, Inc., (MEA) is Alaska’s oldest existing and second-largest electric cooperative. MEA is owned and operated by its 51,000+ members. MEA’s service area covers...

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Matanuska Electric Association, Inc., Alaska’s oldest existing and second-largest electric cooperative, is owned and operated by its 51,000+ members. MEA’s service area is about the size of West Virginia.

Organized efforts to acquire electricity began in Palmer’s Matanuska Colony in the late 1930s, shortly after several families from rural America traveled north to Alaska to make a fresh start as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. The colonists cleared land and built roads, farms, homes and stores.

In 1937, the colony petitioned the newly created Rural Electrification Administration (REA) for help in creating an electric cooperative. Finally, in 1940, the colonists got the go-ahead. On March 1, 1941, they formed the Matanuska Electric Association, the first REA cooperative in the Territory of Alaska.

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Despite a lack of trained electric utility workers, challenging environmental conditions and delays in materials delivery, by the next year MEA was providing electricity to about half of its total membership of 242.

Southcentral Alaska’s population quickly grew to support World War II efforts in the Pacific, and requests for electricity increased accordingly. Anchorage’s utility companies had their hands full in that burgeoning city and weren’t interested in expanding north, so MEA responded with additional service.

Today, MEA serves over 51,000 plus members through roughly 4,500 miles of power lines in the Mat-Su and Eagle River/Chugiak areas.

Electricity is unique in Alaska because the remote nature of Alaska along with the rugged climate and terrain make constructing and maintaining the electrical infrastructure up here a unique challenge. We are electrically isolated from the lower 48; we have challenges that many other states do not.  If the electricity goes down, we do not have neighboring states that can provide power.  From an electrical standpoint, we are on our own and that makes the challenges up here a little different. Utilities in Alaska are typically cooperatives and fully integrate distribution, transmission, and generation functions. 

The ‘coop’ provides a great environment where most everyone who works here are longtime members of the cooperative and the community.  It also lends itself to greater coordination among the interconnected Alaska utilities.  We see two of the cooperative principles play out almost every day with “Concern for Community” and “Cooperation among Cooperatives.” The diversity of functions available often allow engineers to develop a professional track that meets their interests.  Employee development and training is a focus.  This contributes to the fact that our engineers often become long-term employees.

That said, recruiting for positions in the utility industry has unique challenges: we are not part of the contiguous United States. This effects recruiting because many people simply want to reside in the contiguous United States. We are sometimes challenged in finding qualified candidates, but once we do get the right person, they tend to make Alaska their forever home.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 12, 2021

The ‘coop’ provides a great environment where most everyone who works here are longtime members of the cooperative and the community. 

I can see this being an immense intangible that other utilities would indeed be jealous of. People are all bought into the community and want to see it, and its institutions like the utility company, succeed! What are the best ways this helps the utility-- does outreach for new programs become that much easier, for example? 

Kevin Anderson's picture
Kevin Anderson on Mar 15, 2021

Shirley,

Thank you so much for sharing with the community about the Coop and as well as your unique challenges in finding qualified candidates. I cant imagine the amount of forecasting and planning that is involved when these positions do become available. Do you find you have better success with recruiting from the lower 48 or in Alaska? 

Shirley Akelkok's picture
Shirley Akelkok on Mar 15, 2021

Because I am located in Alaska, much of my recruiting is done online with sites like EnergyCentral. It isn't cost effective 'anymore' to attend onsite recruiting events for a handful of positions that may or may not be filled.

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