A Northern Neck resident and Power Line Worker Training School graduate, Genevie Boarman is en route to joining the select ranks of female lineworkers.
“I can definitely keep up with the boys,” the 24-year-old says with a twinkle in her eye, as she slings a safety belt over her shoulder on a decidedly cold November morning in Blackstone, Va.
Genevie Boarman, a Reedville resident and new graduate of Southside Virginia Community College’s (SVCC) Power Line Worker Training School, is confidently scaling the school’s training poles on this day.
“I’m proud to be a girl and be out here doing something that there aren’t a whole lot of females doing,” she says.
Women account for less than 2 percent of America’s lineworkers, according to Census data, so Boarman is unabashedly “a girl” trying to make it in a male-dominated profession, an outdated notion that she wants to flip on its head.
Dimples dance on Boarman’s cheeks when she speaks of the work she’s grown to love doing, whether it’s climbing an 85-foot pole carrying heavy gear or operating utility service equipment. “I love the work just as much as the boys and I’m willing to push myself and work hard,” she says.
Surprisingly, many of those “boys” scaling poles alongside her in training classes agree. “She is a hard worker and that’s all that matters. I don’t see gender,” says Conner McCready, a Tangier, Va., native and assistant instructor at the school.
“I’m not going to lie, she knows what she’s doing,” adds Joshua Clary of Lawrenceville, Va., part of Boarman’s 29-member graduating class at SVCC. “She’s better than half the guys out here.” Bryant Lockridge of Drakes Branch, Va., agrees. “She’s shown a lot of us up,” he says with a laugh.
Trailblazers rarely find their paths absent of naysayers. “A few of the guys think that I’m going to get in the door just because I’m a female,” Boarman acknowledges. In addition, she’s received more than a few cautionary notes about the impact of breaking a glass ceiling in a dangerous line of work.
“My thought is she is a woman and the men aren’t ready to accept a woman into a man’s role,” says her mother, Linda Boarman. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she gets her opportunities and that they allow her to show what she’s able to do.”
That’s not going to stop Boarman from aspiring to new heights. No stranger to hard work, she says she often rejects help from her male counterparts. “I don’t like when they try to help me. I can do it all on my own,” she says.
Josh Ouellette, a 26-year-old journeyman lineman for Craig-Botetourt Electric Cooperative, is pleased that more women are looking to become lineworkers.
“I think it’s been something that’s been intimidating to women in the past. It really comes down to the individual; whether they’re male or female doesn’t matter. You have to have a good work ethic, be able to think on the fly and adapt to whatever situation you’re put in, and you have to be able to interact with people,” he explains.
During SVCC’s 11-week training program, trainees get classroom and hands-on training in safety, climbing techniques, electrical theory, aerial framing, rigging, operating utility service equipment and commercial driver training.
Those who complete the program receive five credentials, including a commercial driver’s license, OSHA 10, CPR/first aid, NCCER Power Line Worker Level 1, and VDOT Traffic Controller.
Boarman has proven that she is more than capable. “Genevie is a special person,” says Randy Crocker, coordinator for the Power Line Worker Training School.
“She’s usually the first in line to go climb the pole and she worked extra hours so she could get her commercial driver’s license (CDL) early and has excelled in every aspect of the program,” he says.
Boarman remembers the moment she considered linework as a potential career path. Her father Joseph Boarman worked for Northern Neck Electric Cooperative (NNEC) and Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO).
But the seed was planted at an industry event for lineworkers.
“I was at the Gaff-n-Go Lineman’s Rodeo a few years ago with a friend of mine, an apprentice for Rappahannock Electric Cooperative. I remember looking up at the guys on the poles and thinking to myself, ‘Why aren’t there any women up there?’”
One day, she hopes to be looking down at onlookers from high atop a pole at the lineman’s rodeo, so that young women like herself don’t have to ask that same question.
Without a doubt, her goal would make her father proud.
Tears well up in her eyes at the mention of her father, who died in 2013. “I did everything with my dad,” she says. “I can still remember him taking me and my three siblings up in the bucket truck. I looked up to him and thought he could do anything. It’s sometimes hard to be here at the training center doing the kind of work he used to do without thinking about him.”
Boarman takes a moment to compose herself, then says, “But I am the hard worker I am because of him. He never took it easy on me. If I wanted to do something, he always let me do it. He didn’t treat me like a girl, if that makes sense.”
She watched her father lace up his work boots and go to work at the electric cooperative each day, too. “Keeping the lights on was very important to him. He couldn’t go on family vacations with us and he missed a lot of birthdays, but he loved what he did,” she says. Due in part to her father’s work history in the electric cooperative world, Boarman would like to follow in his footsteps and work for a co-op. “I like how electric cooperatives are involved in their communities and are so family-oriented,” she says.
Boarman knows that should she join the workforce at an electric cooperative in Virginia upon graduation, she would be the first female electric cooperative lineworker in that state.
Firsts like that matter. “I do like the idea of creating a path for other women to follow in my footsteps,” she says. But, at the end of the day, Boarman just wants to work her hardest and get the job done.
Already, school lead instructor Clyde Robertson sees leadership qualities in his young charge, calling her “a role model” for her fellow students. “If I could get more like her to come through, it would be a benefit to the program,” he says. “I think she influenced a lot of the younger guys in her class. By her showing interest, they kind of followed her lead.”
In her rare off-hours, Boarman works at a restaurant in Warsaw, where she got an invaluable tip from a regular patron about the Blackstone-based line worker training school. That patron happened to be the CEO of NNEC, Greg White. “When I spoke with Greg White at the restaurant, he encouraged me to enroll in the program here at SVCC,” she explains.
“I am delighted, but not surprised, that Genevie has done so well in the Power Line Worker Program. I have seen her strong work ethic at our local restaurant where she has worked for several years. I am quite sure that she will become an excellent lineman as she continues in her new career,” says White.
With that, she scrapped the summertime fun, following up on her decision to enter the training program with a flurry of work as a waitress, bartender, and lawn worker to pay for the tuition.
She didn’t do the things she normally enjoys doing — traveling, hunting, and spending time with Brownie, her beloved chocolate Labrador retriever. “I took on any work I could get. I worked hard to try and make the money to enroll in the school,” she explains.
Some help came in the form of a $1,000 scholarship through the Virginia, Maryland and Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC). VMDAEC offers scholarships to offset the cost of tuition to those applicants who reside in the Virginia, Maryland or Delaware cooperative territory and have been accepted into the Power Line Worker Program. “I was so thankful for that scholarship money,” Boarman says more than once. “As hard as I tried to work, I wouldn’t be here without it.” As White pointed out, “Hopefully, Genevie will enter the cooperative world and we will have our first woman cooperative lineman here in Virginia!”
Training School is 250 Graduates Strong
In March 2016, Southside Virginia Community College’s (SVCC) Power Line Worker Training School opened its doors to aspiring lineworkers in Virginia.
Now, just a few years later, it has become a breeding ground for a new generation of lineworkers.
The first of its kind in the commonwealth, the pre-training school was launched through a public-private partnership between the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC); SVCC; the Virginia Community College System; the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education and the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative.
The school has sent 12 separate training classes into the lineworker trade and is recognized as one of SVCC’s occupational and technical success stories, says college President Dr. Quentin R. Johnson.
“The SVCC Power Line Worker Training School recently reached an impressive milestone. We celebrated our 250th graduate. This program and its success would never have been possible without the support and strong partnership of the VMDAEC,” Johnson said. “Thanks to VMDAEC and the many member organizations!”
The comprehensive program spans 11 weeks and includes pole climbing; pole-top rescue; power line repairs; electrical circuits; rigging, setting and pulling poles; electrical test equipment; and trenching, excavating and boring equipment.
Clyde Robertson, the school’s lead instructor, is a retired Southside Electric Cooperative journeyman lineman with more than 40 years of experience. He says: “On the first day of school, they strap on the hooks and start climbing poles. They’re also learning the importance of being responsible, listening to instructions, and doing their work safely every time. Here, they’ll be taught that there is no room for cutting corners when working with electricity.”
The new program was born from a growing need for qualified lineworkers throughout Virginia.
The trend of experienced lineworkers retiring across the state and nation caught the attention of electric cooperatives in Virginia, especially Crewe-based Southside Electric Cooperative (SEC) and Chase City-based Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC).
MEC and SEC worked with SVCC to establish a training program to develop qualified applicants for future lineworker positions at cooperatives, investor-owned utilities, municipalities, and contractors across Virginia and beyond.
The new school, which grew out of a career-exploration program created by SEC called “A Day in the Life of a Lineman,” brought much-needed opportunity to the region and the state.
Jeff Edwards, CEO of SEC, is extremely proud of the Power Line Worker program. “It has assisted many young men and women in their quest to enter the electric utility industry and has provided an abundance of talent for the electric cooperatives, investor-owned utilities and contractors to choose from as we face the retirements of our operations workforce,” he explains.
The school employs three instructors and one student instructor. “I feel like the program is going to grow. We’re trying to get a building built for another larger classroom so we can house more students,” says Randy Crocker, coordinator for the Power Line Worker Training School.
“We have certainly come a long way, and our industry partners — with the electric cooperatives leading the way — have been the main reason for our success. It’s hard to imagine that five years ago we had nothing and now we have trucks, digger derricks, tools and a world-class outdoor lab for our students,” adds Keith Harkins, vice president of workforce development and continuing education at SVCC.
John C. Lee Jr., CEO of MEC, explains that the school establishes a strong foundation for a very rewarding career for young people aspiring to become lineworkers.
“Not only will students who successfully obtain this certification have the opportunity to provide well for themselves and their families, they’ll also become valuable contributing members of their communities. As it approaches its fifth year, I’d like to congratulate everyone who played a role in both the establishment and tremendous success of the SVCC Power Line Worker Training School.”
For more information about SVCC’s Line Worker Training Program, contact Susan Early at 434-292-3101 or [email protected].