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Scott County woman becomes first female powerline technician to graduate from TCAT

Women make up less than 1% of powerline technicians in the country.

ONEIDA, Tenn. — Linemen work nearly 55 feet in the air, attached by a harness to a vertical pole. 

It's not easy work, and yet 18-year old Amber Ray shows no fear. 

"These deliver electricity to people's houses," Ray said while working on the wiring at the top of a wooden pole.

Darrell Evans has been a powerline technician instructor at Tennessee College of Applied Technology for six years. Each semester, he has around 30 guys in his course. However, this year, Evans had his first female student. 

"The job has been stereotyped as a man-only job and that's not true, as Amber has proved," Evans said.

Ray is the first woman to ever enroll in a powerline technician course at TCAT in Scott County.

Evans has worked as a powerline technician for 36 years. He never worked with a woman. Similarly, his partner has been a lineman for 46 years. He never worked with a female lineman either. 

This is one of many reasons that Evans is proud to have her in his class. 

However, Evans said Ray also came into the course with a lot of ambition. She established herself as a leader early on within the group.

"She was my first student to climb our biggest pole," Evans said.

Ray knows that less than 1% of linemen are women; but, she is determined to be in that group.

"I always have to push myself to prove to everyone that I'm meant to be here," Ray said, "I've had a lot of people outside of class tell me I'm not meant for this."

But Ray believes she is. She loves being outdoors and working in an active environment.

"I don't like to be indoor sitting behind a desk all day. I like to be out working, and this is will keep me out working all day every day," Ray said.

One of her high-school mentors suggested looking into powerline technology.

"So, I came up here I checked it out and fell in love with it. And now that I'm actually in the class, I know that this is definitely for me," Ray said.

Evans said Ray is an example for other women, that this job could be an option for them, as well.

"She's going to open the doorway for other young ladies that would like to come into this program," Evans said.

"Yeah, it's definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Ray said.

The power technician program at TCAT in Scott County is a pre-apprenticeship program that helps students learn skills that make them stand out on job applications.

Evans said the industry is becoming increasingly competitive.

"If a company has 400 applicants for one apprentice job, they're only going to look at about 1% of those applicants. And with this training, it's going to move you into that 1%," Evans said.

Evans mentioned the program may be expanding in the near future to accommodate more students. He also hopes to see other female students in his class in upcoming semesters.