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Girl Power Event May Inspire Future Co-op Employees

NOVEC lineworker Zach Bell shows Megan Balderson the fine points of pole climbing.

Megan Balderson of Stafford County was a bit of an outlier at Girl Power, an annual event hosted by the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives. The association created Girl Power three years ago to introduce young women — primarily high school-aged girls — to opportunities in the energy industry.

Balderson, 23 and no longer a high school student, has already dipped a toe in several occupations, but she’s still looking for the right fit. Currently, she is a waitress while finishing up a certification in cosmetology, but she has concerns that field is oversaturated.

As Balderson moved from one hands-on module to the next, she eagerly tried her hand at replacing a fuse high atop an electric pole using a telescoping fiberglass “hot stick”; she had a knack for it. At one section of the training center in Palmyra, the poles (nicknamed “Smurf” poles) are cut shorter to allow students to stand on the ground while they learn to repair or replace cables. Wearing safety glasses and heavy gloves designed for electrical work, Balderson wrapped stiff wire around electric equipment.

She watched as an operator flew a buzzing drone to check on electrical equipment and listened while an instructor explained the mechanics of a bucket truck.

The most intriguing — and challenging — part of the day was pole climbing, which the young women discovered is harder than it looks. NOVEC’s
Zach Bell, a first class line technician, worked with Balderson, who slowly made progress up the pole. She admitted she’s going to have to work on strength training and technique if she wants to be a lineworker, but the idea appeals to her.

She said she is a hands-on kind of person and pushed to graduate high school a year early. “I was kind of bored in school,” she said, “I like to be engaged in my work.”

A conversation with one of the female lineworkers at Girl Power offered her some reassurance. She told Balderson that linework is difficult at times, “but I love it. And the pay is excellent. Some people might try to tell you that you can’t do it. Don’t believe them. You can do it.”

Linework May Be All in the Family for Taylors

Victoria Taylor listens to her dad, Jesse Taylor, before taking a turn at pole climbing.

One of the high school seniors who attended Girl Power had a leg up on the others. Victoria Taylor’s dad, Jesse Taylor, is a construction supervisor at NOVEC and has had years of experience climbing electric poles.

Victoria, 17, is still considering her career options and said, “My dad signed me up” for Girl Power.

When it was time to choose a pole to climb, Victoria made a beeline for her father, who was helping out at the event. It was a good collaboration. They capitalized on their father-daughter bond, laughed a lot, and Victoria made solid progress up the pole.

Taylor said, “It was like the typical apprentice lineworker’s first day at climbing school. Tori climbed good and fell hard — but only a couple of feet. Climbing is much safer now thanks to modern fall-restraint devices that squeeze the pole and catch you if you slip or fall.

“Tori tried out some of the latest climbing tools on the market, met some inspiring women from cooperatives, utilities, and manufacturers, and learned about opportunities in the energy industry.”

Tori confirmed, “Girl Power camp was great!”