Stephanie Edwards is no stranger to the electric utility industry. The recently hired substation electrician started her career at FirstEnergy in customer service and meter reading more than six years ago, before realizing she wanted to play more of a direct role in power distribution.
“My father was a lineman and I have friends who work in a substation, so a hands-on career within the electric utility industry has always interested me,” said Edwards, who works out of Jersey Central Power & Light’s (JCP&L) Hopatcong Service Center. “While both careers appealed to me, I prefer the technical aspects of substation work, like diagnosing equipment issues and making emergency repairs.”
For Edwards, the most rewarding aspect of the job is power restoration. However, she believes most people are unfamiliar with the vital, behind-the-scenes role substation electricians serve in the restoration process.
Power moves along high voltage transmission lines from the plant to a local substation, where it is reduced to a lower voltage that neighborhood power lines can handle. That lower voltage power is then distributed from the substation to a customer’s home or business.
In other words, without substation electricians, line workers would not be able to do their jobs because they rely on substations to power their lines, said Edwards, a recent graduate of JCP&L’s Power Systems Institute (PSI) training program.
PSI is a two-year educational program developed by FirstEnergy in 2000 to help train the company’s next generation of utility line and substation workers. Students, while pursuing a two-year degree, split their time between classes at partnering community colleges and FirstEnergy’s training facilities, gaining hands-on experience.
Both line and substation work are physically demanding, said Edwards. Anyone interested in these careers should be able to climb utility structures while wearing heavy equipment.
“The PSI program is very competitive, and I knew I had to work extra hard to earn my spot because I was up against all males who are naturally bigger and stronger than me,” she said. “If a woman wants this job bad enough, she’ll train hard and won’t let anyone stand in the way of reaching her end goal.”
Edwards, who joined the workforce in June, often forgets she is the only female substation electrician in her service center because her male colleagues treat her with the same respect and comradery. She is one of four female substation electricians working across JCP&L’s entire footprint.
“All it takes is for a few women to pave the way for other women who are interested in labor-intense utility careers and prove that this type of work is not gender specific,” she said. “I’m hopeful stories like mine will encourage more women to consider careers within the electric utility industry.”
And a wonderful role model she has proven to be, said Tom Cesare, manager of substation services at JCP&L.
"Stephanie’s work ethic and strong emphasis on performing the job safely and correctly helps ensure our substation employees go home to their families each night," he said. “That’s really the most important trait one could ever have in this dangerous industry.”
Four female students are currently enrolled in FirstEnergy’s PSI program; three in substation, one in line work. Edwards is proud and excited to hear that one of the young women in the substation program is completing her field training with JCP&L.
JCP&L is one of FirstEnergy’s 10 electric companies in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia. Learn more about the PSI program and upcoming information sessions at www.firstenergycorp.com/PSI.