Intent on building lasting careers, three newly recruited Jamaica Public Service (JPS) line workers have embarked on new chapters of their lives with the leading energy company.
For 24-year-old Tava Blake, the sole woman among the batch of 34 new hires who officially began their work duties last Tuesday after an intensive 10-week, long training programme, she’s undaunted by the gender imbalance.
Blake embraces her exceptionalism.
“It is the best feeling,” she declared, “but I know that it comes with hard work since I am a woman in a male-dominated field, but with God’s help, I will manage.”
A graduate of Portmore Community College with an associate degree in engineering technology and a Jonathan Grant High student, she is optimistic that her presence within JPS can motivate other members of the fairer sex. “I want to inspire other women to pursue this career as I’m an example to show that you can do it too,” Blake noted.
Accepted into the lineman apprenticeship training programme last year after working as a temporary JPS contractor, Blake has keen aspirations. “I see myself as a long-serving employee of JPS, because one day I hope I’ll be a Journeyman, the pinnacle of the field,” Blake said as she entered the ranks of the organisation, which already has on staff one other linewoman.
Also harbouring thoughts of extended service is Jonathan Shaw, who previously worked for five years as a contractor with JPS’ operations base in Trelawny before successfully enrolling in the lineman programme.
“I was waiting on this opportunity before COVID [the pandemic] stopped it. I applied and got in. It was a great experience as I learnt many things I didn’t know,” explained Shaw, who hails from Duncans and attended Holland High School.
The programme, he shared, educated him on “safety practices, drop off switches and chip savers, how to isolate and close power lines, how to clench conductors, and plant poles manually without a crane truck.”
A self-described “fix-it” who enjoys “pulling up things in my car and tinkering with electrical devices around the house”, Shaw looks forward to being an in-the-field face for JPS.
“I love going out there and representing the company. JPS is a big organisation and people look up to us, and it feels good to be a representative. I am looking forward to staying with this company until I am old,” the 24-year-old said.
Meanwhile, Shaw’s lineman colleague Raheem Reid, is excited to now be a full-time employee of a company he dreamt of working for since attending Cornwall College.
“I was always fascinated from a young age about how the company went about their business, and the whole electrical process intrigued me, so when I became aware of JPS being Jamaica’s primary supplier for electricity, I set out to be part of that,” Reid reminisced.
Thankful to his electrical installation teacher at the HEART Institute in Granville, St James, Valmore Ivey — himself a former lineman — who recommended that the student and part-time contractor apply to the apprenticeship programme, Reid added: “I told my contractor friend Tafari Thompson about the vacancies, and we sent in applications. Both of us were called for interviews, and we both got through,” he happily recalled. “The training sessions were nothing short of amazing. We got a wealth of knowledge over the 10 weeks, and the fact that by halfway through the training, we could challenge our teacher and say, ‘Based on what you told us, this can’t be like that’. We could have debates, and it made us eager to want to be out in the field,” the 24-year-old Reid said. “Going forward, with what we learned in the classroom setting, I hope to be able to transpose all this knowledge to become better. The goal is to be the best there is, so I want to be a journeyman 1, and beyond that.”
Newly recruited JPS line workers (from left to right) Tava Blake, Jonathan Shaw and Raheem Reid.
Blaine Jarrett, JPS’ senior vice president of energy delivery, is thrilled with this new frontline complement. As the man with oversight for all the energy company’s grid services, transmission and distribution lines of JPS, he expressed big hopes for the line workers who will be undergoing further on-the-job training and will next be evaluated at a six-month juncture.
The lineman programme, Jarrett said, “is designed for a person to matriculate to the highest level within three years: a Journeyman lineman 1.” The current line workers, he said, will be assigned to various departments throughout the company each quarter and receive formal training from local coaches. With JPS now a 100-year-old institution, he said the company was seeking to further elevate the customers’ experience.
“We want to offer second-to-none customer service,” the senior vice president said. To this end, he revealed that a new module that formed part of the line workers’ training program was customer service tailored. “It was designed and introduced to the programme. Before there was no customer service element to the programme, and it’s not just knowing how-to, it’s about what can be done to make the customer feel special and empower them in that way,” Jarrett said.
“This batch of 34 persons is joining the company at a time when we are putting a lot more emphasis on a smarter grid, meaning that we are using a lot more electronics to help us diagnose issues on the grid. We can identify quicker where problems are and are using data and even artificial intelligence to diagnose what is happening,” Blaine further noted.