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Fighting for the Soldiers: Women in Trades

Fighting for the Soldiers: Women in Trades

By Alan Ross
Technical Director at APC Media & Curator of the Transformer Technology community

As a supporter of Women in Power Systems (WPS), I have been thinking about what the focus of our efforts should be, and recently I had a revelation. While we clearly need to advocate for inclusion and advancement for women in our industry, we have tended to seek out women in advanced technical roles or as leaders. But there is another area of advocacy that might have as profound an effect on our community: advocating for women in “trade” roles, in typically male roles on the front lines.

The revelation came as I watched a news clip on the chaos of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan during the final days. One of the soldiers killed in the bombing that took so many lives was a woman, a soldier who had a passion for her service. Her name was Nicole L. Gee and she was 23 years old.

She was a marine, who carried a pack, wore all the bulky equipment and soldiered alongside men. I admire her determination and honor her sacrifice. While she is not a Woman in Power Systems, she is a sister to all who are.

Nicole L. Gee (Photo credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

Now for the revelation: We must and will, as the WPS community, be the voice of the soldiers in our midst: the technicians, linemen (an interesting traditional male word), tradespeople and skilled workers who keep the power being generated, transmitted and distributed around the globe.

Women in Power Systems will also be a voice for young women to take advantage of the opportunities created by legislation like the Perkins Act in the US, apprenticeship programs in Europe and across the globe.

The labor market has changed dramatically in the last few years, with COVID accelerating the phenomenon that was happening anyway, the retirement of so many “boomers”. COVID brought some finality to it and suddenly there are more jobs than there are people to fill them. That is especially true in the trades, a traditionally male role.

Since not all young women, just as not all young men, are going to go into engineering or leadership, should we not encourage more technical trades roles for young women as much as we encourage that for young men? In 2017 I had the opportunity to go to Washington DC where members of the Society of Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP) had what we called a “Fly In” to advocate for the Perkins Act V, which was a continuation of previous legislation in support of technical education for high school and technical schools.

Perkins Act V

“The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) was signed into law by President Trump on July 31, 2018. This bipartisan measure reauthorized the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Perkins IV) and continued Congress’ commitment in providing nearly $1.3 billion annually for career and technical education (CTE) programs for our nation’s youth and adults.

Perkins V represents an important opportunity to expand opportunities for every student to explore, choose, and follow career and technical education programs of study and career pathways to earn credentials of value. As States and local communities embark on the development of new plans for CTE, the Department hopes that the videos, resources, links, and media found below and throughout this Website can be useful tools for States and local recipients in “rethinking CTE” and arriving at bold goals under the newly-authorized Perkins V statute.”

What very few people realize is that the Perkins Act V was the only legislation that was unanimously passed by both houses of the congress and signed by President Trump. That shows the widespread and important role for opportunities for the next generation to replace the already retiring and aging boomer practitioners. And that generational change, one we have been talking about for years, is now upon us. The job market for these type of skilled and semi-skilled trades people is large and growing.

Additionally, the next generation of trades workers are not going to use the same tools and technology that my generation has used. Why? Because they were born “digital”. Their grasp of technology tools is so much greater than my generation and the tools available, drones that travel the grid, Partial Discharge (PD), infrared (IR) and ultrasound (UE) monitors that are highly sensitive and capable of detecting faults in ways we only imagined, and data management tools that are all part of the digital revolution going on in all industries, especially in the power industry.

Women in Power Systems will be a voice for young women to take advantage of the opportunities created by legislation like the Perkins Act in the US, apprenticeship programs in Europe and across the globe. Join us in sharing our passion for this next generation of workers, the women in trades roles who have made the breakthrough into this traditional male role.

Find this article and many more in the free spring edition of the Women in Power Systems magazine: Professions in Power.