Jennifer has been a Powerline Technician since 2009, achieving her Red Seal designation in 2014. Prior to starting the apprenticeship, she also worked as a Customer Service Representative and a Stores Clerk. She grew up in Stoney Creek, Ontario, and currently works for a Utility in the Niagara Region.
Can you tell us what it is you do?
Being a Powerline Technician (PLT) broadens my way of thinking and gives me opportunity for learning something new. Every job, though similar in nature comes with its own plan, its own process and its own risks. Much like the idea of work being done on a far off country road versus working on busy, heavily trafficked roadways. All of the hazards of our work are still the same (traffic/pedestrians, working at heights, falling loads, electrical contact, etc) but the risk involved is what can be vastly different from job to job and city to city.
The scope of our work changes frequently and as Powerline Technicians we have to have the ability to adapt and change, which can be difficult at times.
When power outages or damages occur, whether by storm or accident related, my colleagues and I must do our best to perform the work required to the best of our ability and in the safest way possible. Where the difficulty arises is that the work we do isn’t always as simple as just closing a switch to resolve a problem. There is troubleshooting that takes place to determine the source of the problem and assess any/all damage. There are safety rules and protocols that we must adhere to, and communication that must take place behind the scenes. We typically have a rough idea of the duration required to restore power, but that time can vary depending on accessibility (on the road or in a backyard), weather (clear sunny days versus wind, rain, snow), tools & equipment required and workers available.
What do you love about your career?
I love that even after twelve years as a Powerline Technician (PLT), I still keep asking questions, aspire to learn new things and challenge the usual way of thinking. By challenging that way of thinking and some ideas that may be considered “old school” in our industry, I can sometimes be met with disagreement and discouraging works. But, it also brings to light the idea that just because I can’t see something the way another person sees it, we aren’t both necessarily wrong. I was once told by a co-worker that our work can be divided as follows: that 80% of the work comes from your attitude towards it and the other 20% is your actual skills, knowledge and abilities (all of which I have doubted in myself at one time or another).
I am learning to change my mindset about my abilities and where I sometimes think I am lacking. If I feel strength is an issue, I have some really awesome tools and equipment at my disposal and I also have co-workers willing to lend a hand to make the work lighter for everyone. When there is something new that arises, there are people who have answers, or that capability to find out.
I love that we have the capacity to provide a service for our communities that keep us connected. Electricity gives us the ability to enjoy that immediate
connection with one another and when the power is out and connection is disrupted or halted, we step in to re-illuminate our cities.
When you’re not at work, where might we find you?
I am a homebody that loves the outdoors. I am an avid birder that thinks the rest of society loves birds as much as I do. I help people move and breathe a little better through yoga instruction that is gentle and inspired by nature and I exercise my creativity through crochet and needle crafts. I try my best to keep house plants alive and I find a lot of joy in tending to the flower and vegetable garden. When I’m not hanging out by myself, most of my time is spent with my husband, dog and bird on a little piece of land in the country.
What changes do you see in the electricity sector?
The key thing I see in terms of change in the electricity sector, is that it is constantly changing and evolving. For me, I arrived somewhere in the middle, not quite tech-savvy and not quite old school and having to adapting to the changing landscape of even the last decade.
The scope of work doesn’t always have to include the use of brute force and muscling through it. With the availability of bucket and digger trucks, backyard machines, battery hand tools, among other things, there is a greater ability to access our work spaces and to lessen the effect of the work on the body.
To assist with power restoration, there are lights/indicators that can assist with finding problems or we have installed switches in the field that can be operated by someone in a completely different city than we work.
The landscape of the work is changing quickly as alternative forms sources are harnesses, like wind and solar. With the demand to lessen emissions and increase reliability, new developments arrive with electric vehicles and the ability to generate your own electricity off grid. It will be very interesting to see if the industry can keep up with the changes as they arise. Take for example, I have a five year old cell phone, which now has a cracked screen and sometimes operates as slow as dial up internet, but I’m just not ready to upgrade it. It still works fairly well, but sometimes not reliable. That reliability is what our industry stems from and our work as Powerline Technicians is to upgrade, maintain and improve our system so that we can keep the lights on for you.
There is going to be big changes in the workforce in the next five to ten years, if not sooner, as the aging workforce retires, and apprentices arrive in those roles, trying to capture as much skill and knowledge before those folks are gone. As the landscape of construction and technology changes, we must continuously react and prepare ourselves for those changes.
Jennifer, you are wonderfully supportive of Women of PLT and our mission to have women as equal participants in trade and technical roles in the electricity sector. Why is it important to you to encourage women in the trades?
If women work within the electricity sector, whether as Engineers, Powerline Technicians, Electricians, etc, they all bring unique perspectives to the work force. It’s not to say that every woman, or man, has the capacity to do this work and succeed, but if we are more inclusive and diverse workforce, there is a greater availability thoughts, ideas, and perspectives.
I want workers to feel safe in their surroundings, where the first and last thoughts and words of the day don’t revolve around the things that divide and separate us from one another.
My hope for the next ten years is that (more) conversations happen to better understand the value each crew member brings to the table and that groups know how to work together and that see value in each job being done. I strive for an industry where women are recognized for their role and their work, rather than gender first, job second. Where it is common to see women on job sites, where they are not confused for their counterparts, and where they are seen for their work. With perspective brings insight. With more than one perspective, that insight gains knowledge. With better knowledge that insight turns to understanding.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I am inspired by current and recent apprentices in the electrical sector. Many have grown up in a world where technology is the forefront of industry.
They are excelling in the technological aspects of our jobs: Engineering and Design, IT (Information Technology), Metering, P&C (Protection and Control)
and Construction and Maintenance, all disciplines that help keep the lights on. These apprentices are applying this new knowledge and skillset to building powerlines, constructing towers and maintaining generating stations in various communities, in a way that didn’t exist when I started a decade ago nor with those of retirement age.
What additional skills and perspectives do you bring with you to work? Share with us on Instagram by tagging us @WOMENOFPLT