Women In Power

By Scott Forbes
For Huskie Tools

“Big Girl Panties Required” blares the hot pink type at the top of the page.

No, this isn’t a headline in a magazine ad promoting plus-sized lingerie. It’s what you find at the top of the Linemans Womens Club’s Facebook page. With a constantly growing membership that reached 1,162 at the end of April, this group is reflective of the growing influx of women into the “line life,” as the page calls it.

Women Lineworkers
Courtesy Michele Schaffer

WOMEN IN A MAN’S WORLD

“Women in trades are here to stay,” reported the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers following the October 2018 Women Build Nations conference in Seattle.  Though the trades have traditionally been dominated by men over the decades, recent numbers suggest more and more women will be on job sites in the coming years.  More and more women will be putting up drywall, installing plumbing, and bringing electrical power to cities and towns all across the country.

Until 1992 no woman had ever climbed power poles or repaired electric lines in Missouri until Susan Blaser earned the position of journeyman line worker with Kansas City Power and Light. Today she’s the lead instructor of Metropolitan Community College’s electric utility line technician program, where she’s encouraging more and more women to go into her line of work. In the December 13, 2018 issue of Inside Higher Ed, Susan insists that it’s a “career opportunity that females could do.” She should know.

Not only can women get into the trade, they can earn a very good living as line installers and repairers.

A LOT ON THE LINE

According to the United States Department of Labor median pay in the field is $66,880 annually and the number of jobs that will need to be filled between now and 2026 is well over 15,000 nationwide.  Numbers like these present tremendous opportunity for any woman willing and able to learn, train, and endure the physical rigors of apprenticeship on the way to becoming a journeyman.

21-year-old Kaitlyn Vaillancourt is a great example of what the next generation of line workers will look like. Among the 210 professionals who perform such work at Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) in Johnson City, Texas, she is the lone woman and was recently profiled by the National Cooperative Business Association.

“I like to use my body and put things together,” she said in the profile as she looked ahead to her promotion to third-year apprenticeship in April.

Her supervisor, Jason Foster, pointed out that the third year is when most apprentices drop out—it’s when apprentices first work on energized lines.

“Kaitlyn has a passion for this industry,” he said in the profile. “The main thing at this level is attitude, and hers is very good.” He seems confident that she’ll do just fine when she ascends to journeyman.

“I will say it takes a certain kind of woman to do this work well,” chimes in Michele Schaffer, a heavy equipment operator trainee at International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 2150 in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. “You have to be strong, physically and mentally… you need to be determined.”

A BRIGHT FUTURE

Maureen Dean was on her way to becoming a nurse in Alpena, Michigan when she graduated from high school. But after a little soul searching she realized nursing wasn’t going to be as fulfilling for her as she’d hoped. A family friend suggested she might like line work and she enrolled at Alpena Community College’s Utility Technology Program in the fall of 2013.

Maureen Dean
Courtesy Maureen Dean

During the nine-month course she developed an appreciation of line work and learned the basics of electrical theory, construction, and climbing. Moe put out applications before the course was even completed, took a job in the industry in Ohio during the summer of 2014, then earned an apprenticeship with Missouri Valley a few months later.

Today she’s an apprentice living in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and she sees a trend.

“Yes, there are more women getting involved. I know of several women who work in and around my trade,” she pointed out before mentioning that her union local has been a very welcoming place for women and is constantly pushing to bring more women into line work.

What’s the most rewarding part of the job for this 24-year-old?

“Knowing that not everyone can do the work, whether they are MALE or FEMALE. The work is challenging and there are never black-and-white answers,” to the challenges she and her colleagues face in the field.

“I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else,” she says with a smile. “I’ve fallen in love with the work.”

And it appears more and more women are too.

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