As the construction industry settles into the 21st century, we have begun to see a shift in the once worn, bearded faces of linemen and journeymen. In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported women accounted for 8.9 percent of the construction workforce. That is a mere 872,000 of the 9,813,000 currently working in the industry. One of the 8.9 percent of women that is bringing a fresh, new look to the construction industry is Samantha (Sam) Randby, an apprentice in the Missouri Valley Line Constructors Apprenticeship and Training Program.
You may soon come to know Sam as the face of the Federation of Women Contractors as she will be showcased on the front cover of this year’s FWC directory, along with other women from INTREN – Violeta Gonzalez and Nicole Donald. This bright, young lady, though an apprentice lineman, is just an average 24-year old girl. Growing up in rural Duluth, Minnesota, Sam spent her childhood fascinated by anything that moved: from bugs and frogs, to four-wheelers and trucks. As she got older, she found her passion to sing, play guitar and hunting.
With her father, once a cableman, and grandfather, a troubleshooter for Minnesota Power, it was an easy choice for Sam when she decided on her career path in the electrical industry. “My dad would tell me stories about all the places he worked across the country and how great an experience it was. Occasionally, while working around Duluth, he and my grandpa would be out on the same trouble call. My dad would climb the pole and get to work, while my grandpa would climb up after him and tape my dad's climbers to the pole on the way up. He told me they were always pulling pranks like that on each other."
Currently based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Minnesota native is working to become the third generation of linemen in her family.
Sam claims it was an unexpected message from her father that solidified her choice to become a lineman. “One night, when I was away at line school and doing homework, I got a text from my dad. 'I'm proud of you', was all it said, but those four words meant the world to me."
Sam is now on her final step in the seven step apprenticeship program. Just a few more months and plenty of time working on energized lines, and she may soon have the privilege of becoming a journeyman lineman. As part of the program, apprentices work for different contractors to earn hours of on-the-job training in various aspects of line work such as distribution and transmission. Students also have to attend classes once a month where they complete tasks from atop the pole and make numerous transformer connections. “I like going to class because they teach us things that we may not otherwise learn on the job," Sam said. "Sometimes, depending on the job, you don’t experience as much as you might learn from an activity in class. Obviously no one wants to miss work just to go sit in a room, but if you have to, you might as well learn something.”
For over a year, Sam has been working with INTREN crews all over the Midwest. Currently, she is working on a backyard pole replacement job in Germantown, Wisconsin. Crews are changing out old poles and updating system equipment, so the voltage of the lines can be increased. “Our job is dangerous, so I appreciate that INTREN is all about their employees' safety. They are not out to make a name for themselves, they are there to keep everyone safe and to make sure everyone can go home at the end of the day.”
Even though everything has gone extremely well for Sam thus far in the apprenticeship, being one of the few women in the industry working in the field creates unique situations to tackle.
"You have to be able to take a joke and learn from your mistakes. I'm very stubborn and try to push my strength when I should ask for help or use mechanical means to accomplish a task. The guys give me a hard time, but I know they're just trying to make me a better apprentice and, ultimately, a better lineman."
While Sam continues to follow in her father and grandfathers' footsteps, she had a few words of advice for those entering the utility industry:
“Don't stand around with your hands in your pockets, try your hardest and be a go getter. No question is a stupid question: if you have any doubt about your ability or what you have been told to do, just ask. And always be your brother's keeper.”
As Sam continues to progress in the line construction industry, she will no doubt set an example for all future apprentices and women in construction. INTREN, a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE), will continue to look for apprentices like Sam in order to support and grow minorities and women in the industry.