When Cristi Dyami first considered becoming a lineman apprentice, someone nearly talked her out of it. It's a hard job, and it takes a unique person — man or woman — to succeed at it. While understanding the job would require a lot of hard work, she chose to ignore the advice.
Now, after four years in Bonneville Power Administration's apprenticeship program, Dyami has earned recognition as the agency's first female lineman. She completed the program on May 30, 2008, and is now working in Vancouver on a line maintenance crew.
As of 2005, women made up only 3.5% of the lineman workforce nationally, and only a handful of those women work in transmission.
“All linemen work on power lines, but transmission work is different than distribution line work,” Dyami said. “The tools required for transmission are generally heavier, and the structures we work on are taller. That, combined with the definite lack of other women in the field, causes most women to shy away from the transmission side of the industry.”
Recruiting Women Linemen
BPA is not unique in terms of female recruitment — the field simply has not attracted many women. But Dyami and others like her are trying to change that. She volunteers for Oregon Tradeswoman Inc. and recently participated in the annual Women in Trades Career Fair.
“My goal at events like these is to let women know this is a great career. But I also want to give them a realistic perspective of what it's like,” she explained. This kind of work is unfamiliar to a lot of women, and it's important they know what they're getting into.”
Sharpening Skill Sets
The skills required by a transmission lineman are varied and complex. They do everything from patrolling lines and maintaining rights-of-way to replacing poles and conductors. Workers are often required to perform tasks on steel towers hundreds of feet off the ground.
Linemen work out in the elements and often in challenging situations. For example, BPA's crews were exposed to wet, windy and cold conditions when making repairs following the December 2007 storms, which took out 71 sections of transmission line.
Communication and teamwork are critical aspects of the lineman's job, especially during storms when attention to safety is crucial due to the conditions. Storms can also build camaraderie and teamwork.
“When the power goes out unexpectedly, we rally together,” said Dyami. “All linemen want the same thing: to return homes and businesses back to normal. There's nothing like seeing a dark town suddenly light up and knowing we played a part in it.”
Preparing for Line Work
Before coming to BPA, Dyami attended Northwest Lineman College in Idaho, which is how she qualified for the apprenticeship. To be eligible for BPA's program, applicants must either be a veteran or a student in a lineman or technical college. Dyami's on-the-job experience working for a California transmission construction company also made her a good candidate for the position.
But whatever the skill level of the incoming apprentice, BPA's program is demanding. It requires classroom time in addition to on-the-job training, and successful apprentices also spend about eight hours of their own time each week studying.
“The program has definitely been challenging,” Dyami noted. “But I have had the best teachers and mentors. I am truly grateful for this experience and for the opportunity to learn from some of the best in the field.”