Oct 8, 2020
By Sarah Pickard
Mackenzie Gillan, a bright young lady from Baysville, Ontario, tells us about how she learned to love the electrical trade in high school, and how that path has carried her forward to unexpected places and new heights—literally. Gillan is set to begin a Powerline Technician Apprenticeship with Hydro One, and as she explains below, she had some interesting experiences during two college co-op placements. While her career has just begun, Gillian is already active in the broader industry as an advocate for women, working as an ambassador for KickAss Careers, Women of Powerline Technicians, and Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE).
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your career so far?
Growing up I played a lot of competitive sports and believed that going to university on an athletic scholarship was the only pathway for me to be successful. In my later years of high school, I started to realize that I didn’t like working inside at a desk, and the university pathway may not be the right fit for me.
Due to moving in my senior year of high school, I had to take an extra semester to graduate. Moving from the city of Barrie to the small village of Baysville in Muskoka really opened my eyes to the career paths in the skilled trades. Also, being the new kid at school and not knowing too many people gave me the confidence to try things out of my comfort zone. I decided to take a dual-credit electrical installation class run by my high school and local college. I was one of two girls in my class, which was a little intimidating at first, but I absolutely loved the work that I was doing and didn’t care that I stuck out like a sore thumb.
From there, I seriously considered pursuing the trades as my career. I stumbled across a college program called “Powerline Technician” and started doing some research. I loved all the components of it and I actively started to work towards being a top candidate for acceptance into the colleges. I was accepted into my top choice, Conestoga college, starting the fall of 2018. I loved what I was learning in school and started looking forward to going to class and learning. I knew that I found the right career path for me.
Through the college, I was able to complete two co-op terms. The first was painting Transmission structures across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The second was with Toronto Hydro. This gave me some exposure to the trade outside of the college.
In my third semester of college, I applied to a Hydro One/ PWU hiring Hall apprenticeship posting. Knowing that it is very competitive to get an interview/ hired on, I had taken as many extra training certificates to make myself a top candidate for the job. However, I was doubtful that I would hear back. Thankfully, I received an interview and an apprenticeship offer. I am set to start my apprenticeship with Hydro One soon.
What drew you to the electrical field?
At my high school in Barrie, I had a good physics teacher that made the electricity section of the curriculum interesting and fun to learn. The experience I had in Ms. Macfie’s class made career paths in the electrical field really stand out to me.
What do you do in your current role, what are some of the rewards/challenges?
When I start my apprenticeship, I will be building and maintaining the distribution and transmission lines of Ontario’s Grid. Basically, powerline technicians (linemen) ensure that power travels from the generation station safely to the consumer’s meter.
When it comes to challenges, there are so many different aspects of the trade and so much to learn. Especially as a new employee in the field, every day you could be doing something completely different from the last. It’s important to always be asking questions and ensuring that you are working safely. Also, the trade can be physically demanding. Some components require you to use muscles that you may not have used before. It is important to keep physically fit and learn/ practice proper techniques for those components.
As for rewards, it’s a great feeling when you finally accomplish a new skill that was challenging. Every day is something new when you get to work in a team environment, and the views from the air are incredible. The trade can take you places that you have never even heard of before. You get paid to travel and experience new places.
What areas of the industry interest you most? Where do you hope to go with your career?
As I am just starting out my career, pretty much everything in my field really interests me. Starting out, it is crucial to learn the basics of being a good ground hand first. But as I progress, I am looking forward to live line work. Also, I know it is very competitive to get into helicopter work in the trade, but helicopter work is the top thing that interests me.
What is the worst/best job/project/service call you have ever had, and why?
When I was on my first coop painting transmission structures, I had the opportunity to visit the Maritimes. This was something that had been on my bucket list since I was in elementary school. Not only did I get paid to travel out there and had my living expenses covered, I had some of the coolest views of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The first time I had really got to see the Ocean (Bay of Fundy) was at a jobsite in Saint John’s New Brunswick. One tower I worked on in Dartmouth Nova Scotia perfectly overlooked the suspension bridge to Halifax. Another tower I worked on was in Tiverton, Nova Scotia. Before I worked there, I had never heard of Brier or Long Island before. We had to take ferries every day to get to and from work. Some days it was so foggy on top of the tower that you couldn’t see the ground. Others, it was clear enough to see for miles. One day I was fortunate enough to watch dolphins swim and jump while I worked. No office view could beat any of these views.
How has the pandemic affected your work?
The pandemic has postponed my start date with Hydro One. As much as I would love to be starting my apprenticeship right away, I understand they are taking all necessary precautions to keep their staff and communities safe. I am using the delay in my start date as an opportunity to finish my college diploma at Conestoga College.
What trends in the industry are you most excited by right now?
I am very interested to see how advancing technology and consumer trends affect the grid. Electric Vehicles seem to be rising in popularity. It will be very interesting to see how EV’s play a part with the bidirectional grid.