By David Kligman
SAN FRANCISCO — PG&E wants to debunk the thinking that utility work is man’s work.
More than 100 women visited the utility’s headquarters on Tuesday night (Jan. 8) to learn more about an upcoming training course that could be their entry into a profession many associate only with men.
About 25 women will be accepted into the free 10-week course, which will take place in Oakland beginning in late February. There’s strong interest in the pilot class as 400 people (including a few men) already have submitted applications ahead of the Jan. 18 deadline.
Meg Vasey, executive director of Tradeswomen Inc., the group partnering with PG&E on the course, spoke to the women to prepare them for the competitive but rewarding careers available in utility gas and electric construction.
She made it clear the jobs aren’t office work — and they’re not for everyone. Ideal candidates are women who want to work outdoors, are physically fit, can lift at least 50 pounds, are proficient in math, like to work with electronics and have some experience in construction.
“We’re talking about jobs where you shower at the end of the day and not at the beginning,” Vasey told them. “You’re starting out in these types of jobs and it’s dirty, hard physical work.”
Women rare in utility crews
Vasey began her career in construction in 1978 and said it’s still rare to find women on a utility crew. At PG&E, women account for about 28 percent of the workforce, but only 8 percent of the entry-level field gas and electric jobs.
“These are jobs where women aren’t really present even after all these years,” she said. “I’d be on a job with 400 other men and I wouldn’t see another woman. I could go a week without hearing another woman’s voice.”
The course, “Introduction to Energy and Utilities Careers for Women,” is part of PG&E’s PowerPathway program, which the utility launched to train skilled workers needed for an industry that’s expected to see a wave of retirements from its aging workforce. PG&E partners with educational institutions and community-based training organizations to bring industry-relevant training to people in diverse, underserved communities who are out of work or underemployed as a result of the economy.
Now the focus is on finding and training qualified women. This course will provide an overview of utility careers, strategies to overcome obstacles for women and assistance with PG&E’s online job application process.
Sharnae Springfield believes she has what it takes to be a utility worker. She said she is certified to operate a forklift, has gone through CPR training and currently works on a recycling crew in San Francisco.
“Sometimes they say this is a man’s field,” she said. “But for me, personally, I like to do this kind of work.”
‘You have to be a renegade’
Oakland’s Ganomia Byrd, who is pursuing an engineering degree, hopes to be chosen for the class. She said the idea of being a woman in a traditionally male occupation wouldn’t deter her.
“It might be intimidating at first,” she said. “But you have to be a renegade in your own way. You have to be able to say to any man, ‘I can do just as good a job as you.’”
Also taking part in the information session was Lauri Jones, a 28-year PG&E veteran who recounted her experiences working on electric crews, and Yonnie Leung, who oversees the PowerPathway program.
Leung said one of the biggest barriers for women is simply awareness that a utility career is possible. She said she hopes this course also will serve as needed support for those women who do become gas and electric employees.
“If we’re able to get three women together onto a crew, that in itself provides a support network that really doesn’t exist today,” she said.
This was the third of four information sessions, with one more scheduled for Jan. 15 in Newark in Alameda County (5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Tri-Cities One Stop, 39399 Cherry St.).
While only a small percentage of those who apply will be accepted, PG&E’s goal ultimately is to find jobs in the energy industry for every woman who completes the course.
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.