Women make an impact at Manitoba Hydro, including construction and trades

On March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day; this is a global day to recognize and celebrate women’s and girls’ social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. It’s also a time to raise awareness of the progress made towards achieving gender equality and the work remaining to be done.

Two pre-placement programs at Manitoba Hydro are actively working to get women ready for Power Electrician and Mechanical Technician roles — and the response from those completing the program is illuminating.

Geared towards introducing women to the trades, these pre-placement programs join the successful Indigenous pre-placement programs, which have assisted in growing Manitoba Hydro’s Indigenous workforce from seven per cent in 2001 to over 20 per cent in 2022.

Manitoba Hydro’s pre-placement programs provide an opportunity for individuals to experience the trades and learn hands-on skills.

Woman in safety gear using a wrench to work on equipment in the outdoors.

Lee Poole working at the Dorsey facility.

Enlarge image: Woman in safety gear using a wrench to work on equipment in the outdoors.

Jayde Ward, with Converter Stations South, explained why she joined the Power Electrician Pre-Placement Program last January.

“Originally, I started with Manitoba Hydro in Underground Construction on a directional drilling crew,” said Jayde. “I wanted to advance my career and get into the trades — I looked at all the programs I was interested in, the Power Electrician Program, Mechanical Technician Program, and the Power Line Technician Program. The Power Electrician Program just fits me and what I want to learn throughout my career with Manitoba Hydro.”

The pre-placement program welcomes candidates who are high school graduates, who possess and maintain a Class 5 driver’s license, who like to work in all types of weather, who have a good mechanical aptitude, physical coordination, manual dexterity and can lift heavy objects.

“If you don’t like the outdoors, this trade might not be for you,” explained Jayde. “If you’re a hands-on person this is the best place to be, and the pre-placement program is just a good way to see if the trade is the right fit for you.

“It was a really hard decision for me to choose between electrical and mechanical,” said Jayde. “I do really like the hands-on side of mechanical but the electrical gave me more versatility with a mix of hands-on as well as learning to dig deep and troubleshoot problems you can’t physically see — we get to do a lot of wrenching, but we also dig more into diagrams and learning how to keep our stations running.”

Manitoba Hydro’s pre-placement programs also helps candidates get the necessary educational upgrades needed for the trades.

“A lot of people don’t have an opportunity to get their math and physics so Hydro will put you through schooling at Red River College Polytechnic to make sure everyone has an equal opportunity,” said Jayde.

Alyssa Seniuk, with Converter Stations South, is also taking part in the pre-placement for Power Electricians and while she enjoys working with diagrams and learning more about generation, she likes the diversity of opportunities the pre-placement programs offer.

“For me, I have a tendency of losing interest if work becomes monotonous,” said Alyssa. “Hydro is a cool company to be a part of because there are a variety of options available to advance your career and the chance to travel around Manitoba while you do it. It is based on seniority, so you are guaranteed new opportunities, and everyone gets a fair shot,” she said.

“You can also choose to specialize in a specific department within the company. You do not have to be on the tools for the rest of your life.

“I love that Hydro offers such a wide range of opportunities.”

Three women in safety gear stand outdoors and consult over some planning drawings at a Manitoba Hydro facility.

Alyssa Seniuk, Jayde Ward, and Lee Poole at the Dorsey facility.

Enlarge image: Three women in safety gear stand outdoors and consult over some planning drawings at a Manitoba Hydro facility.

For Lee Poole, with Converter Stations South, the diversity of jobs and opportunities was an extra incentive for her to enter the pre-placement for the Mechanical Technician trade.

Lee was a helicopter mechanic for four years before joining Civil Construction in fall 2021. She began the pre-placement program in January 2022.

“I started the pre-placement program with Jayde and Alyssa,” said Lee.

“I’ve never been good at sitting at a desk for any period of time,” she explained. “I love being outside and taking things apart and putting them back together. I love troubleshooting. It’s why I chose mechanical.”

The opportunity to work in different parts of the province and apply the skills she’s learning is also very attractive to Lee.

“I haven’t done generation yet, so I’m keeping an open mind,” said Lee. “I kind of want to see what it’s about — I’ve seen some stuff from other pre-placement trainees, and generation is just bigger, and that’s kind of cool, I’m looking forward to it.”

Lee has advice for anyone considering the pre-placement programs.

“Don’t be afraid,” said Lee. “Even if you’ve never turned a wrench or a screwdriver, you’ll get a lot of opportunities to use them. I never thought I would be interested in anything like this until I was, ‘hey, that looks neat, let’s give it a try’.

“If it spins, turns, or moves, you’re probably going to be working on it eventually,” said Lee.

As a trainee, you can be exposed to many different tasks within Manitoba Hydro. For Lee Poole, the chance to do an overhaul on a synchronous condenser — a unit that improves stability and maintains voltages within desired limits under changing load conditions — was something totally unexpected yet very, very cool.

“A synchronous condenser is normally filled with hydrogen. Hydrogen doesn’t get along with the oxygen in our air. It’s extremely combustible between 10 and 70 per cent, so we pump CO2 into the machine to flush out the hydrogen. We purge and fill the sync until we determine with a Burrell [gas analyzer] that there is little to no hydrogen left in the sync, and once we like our CO2 numbers, we will start filling and purging with air until we get breathable levels.

“I was overseen by someone with a lot of experience, and I learned a lot about proper procedures for safety and reliability,” said Lee. “It was very cool.”

For more information about the pre-placement training programs, visit Women’s Power Electrician/Mechanic Technician pre-placement program.