Jessica Giles, Line Technician III, is the first woman in about 40 years to work as a line tech at OUC.
When Jessica Giles told her parents she wanted to pursue a career as a powerline technician her father let her know in no uncertain terms just how he felt about her decision to enter the male-dominated occupation.
He paid her tuition for Valencia College’s Electric Powerline Technician apprenticeship program and surprised Jessica with a 30-foot utility pole he planted in the family home’s backyard so she could practice her climbing skills.
“I came home one day and he asked, ‘Hey, you got your climbing gear with you?’ He then pointed to the backyard,” says Giles. “I spent a lot of time climbing and working on skills you have to do while on a pole.”
Thanks to her dad’s support and enthusiastic encouragement, Giles graduated from Valencia’s program in late 2020 and, in September 2021, became only the second woman to make it into OUC’s powerline unit as a line technician III, an entry position. Leslie Temmen was the first, passing through OUC’s “groundman” program in the late 1970s to work as a line tech III for two and a half years. She moved into other positions at OUC, including management, and retired in 2009.
Giles, 24, was no stranger to electrical work when she decided to quit nursing school to see if she could make it in utility line work. As a young child, she enjoyed crawling into tight spaces to pull through non-energized wires for her father, Jeffrey Giles, who owns J Giles Electrical Services in Orlando. At 11 she was installing recessed lighting in homes.
“My mom wanted me to go into nursing,” says Giles, “but dad wanted me to go into electrical work. He’s the one who told me about Valencia’s program, and he paid my tuition. He’s always been my biggest supporter.”
Jeffrey Giles says he’s happy his daughter has a good job with a future. “Hopefully, she enjoys it.”
Being the only woman on OUC’s 72-member line tech team, Giles says she feels “a lot of pressure to succeed in this field. I feel like there are quite a lot of eyes on me. What I’m going to do with that feeling is use it to push me to do better and move forward.”
As a line tech III, Giles is in her second step of her lineworker’s apprenticeship. She works mostly in supervised support roles within OUC’s Electric Distribution/Operation Department.
Giles has set her sights on advancing as a lineworker, a trade that puts a premium on physically demanding skills like replacing storm-damaged utility poles, raising downed powerlines, installing and repairing underground lines and working day or night in severe weather conditions.
“We were doing a job out at Wedgefield, and I . . . had to climb up a pole by myself and help connect a service line to a house. That’s something I’m really proud of,” she says.
Giles realizes she’s standing on the shoulders of women who broke into the fraternity of lineman.
“For the women who are in fields like this and have been in these fields for years, I applaud them, and I respect them because the work is definitely strenuous,” she says.
Temmen, OUC’s first female line tech, recalls being badgered by senior linemen when she joined a line crew, but “they would’ve picked on me if I was a guy. There was some hazing for all new people. You couldn’t go into that line of work and expect to be greeted with open arms. You had to prove yourself.
“I did know that being the first made me unique,” she explains. “Did I feel like I was opening doors for women? I probably was. I just tried to be myself and do the best job I could do. If that reflected on other women, that’s good, but they had to do their own good jobs.”
She says she decided to move out of line work because she saw other opportunities for long-term career advancement at OUC.
Susan Blaser worked as a line tech at Kansas City Power & Light from 1989 until 2008. She is the first woman in Missouri to make journeyman, the top rung on a lineworker’s career ladder. Now the coordinator of the Lineman Program at Metropolitan Community College-Business & Technology Campus in Kansas City, Mo., Blaser sees line work opportunities growing for women.
Improvements in powerline equipment are lessening the physical aspects of the job, she says, and workplace cultures have changed for the better since she began her line career.
“The culture of the company; that’s what will make the difference” for female lineworkers, she says. “If you want people to be successful, you put them with successful people. I’m not going to lie, I had a lot of struggles starting out, but there were journeyman around me who were looking out for me.”
Giles says she feels she has the support she needs to grow as an OUC line tech.
“I have met a lot of people who have told me they want me to succeed, and they have given me the tools and materials to do that,” she says.
She advises women entering line work to “not overthink things in the sense that when somebody’s giving you constructive criticism. Use it as a reason to push yourself and do better, and show that you deserve to be here because you can do it.”