When construction starts on the towers that will carry the Maritime Link transmission line through Cape Breton, there will be some female faces on the work site.

Nineteen women recently completed a tower assembly training course offered by Abengoa, the contractor responsible for building the line for Emera Newfoundland and Labrador on Cape Breton.

"They're going to be involved in the whole power line process," said Lloyd Delorey, general foreman for Abengoa.  

"They'll be assembling steel and grillages — which is actually the base of the tower — to start off," he said. "And they'll be involved in the wire stringing also as part of the ground crew."

The hands-on component of the training took place in Abengoa's yard in the Sydport Industrial Park.

Wendy Anderson, 25, says she enjoyed the experience of building a practice tower — even in the rain.

Teamwork and the elements

"One of the biggest challenges would be enduring the elements, but we're all accustomed to Cape Breton weather," Anderson said. "We're all very outdoorsy women, so aside from that, it would be the weight of the steel, but that was overcome with teamwork."

Trainees assemble a tower

Trainees assemble a tower. (Supplied by Women Unlimited)

As with most of the women who went through the two-week course, Anderson has previous trades training through Nova Scotia Community College. She was part of a program offered through Women Unlimited, a non-profit organization that promotes the participation of women in trades and technology.

'It allows women to stay within their community'

The organization was keen to partner with Abengoa on the training program, said Noreen MacKinnon, the project facilitator for Women Unlimited at the NSCC Marconi campus in Sydney, N.S. 

"It allows women to stay within their community, make a good wage and provide a good living for their families," MacKinnon said.

The commitment to diversity is why the Mi'kmaq Economic Benefits Office signed on as a second partner, said Patricia Butt, the senior manager of human resources for Emera's Maritime Link project. 

That commitment is part of the Industrial Benefits Agreement Emera has signed with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

"Our goal is ultimately is to work with aboriginal groups and women's groups to provide training," Butt said, "and then to get them the work experience so that, even when our project is over, it will enable them to find future employment."

Looking for something new

Monica Googoo of Wagmatcook said she worked at an office job for years and wanted to try something new and more hands-on. She likes the idea of working outdoors and as part of a team.

"I was looking for a job out west and they're usually looking for someone with years and years of experience, and just coming out of college, we don't have that experience," Googoo said.

She said she's grateful for the opportunity to learn a new skill in Cape Breton. 

Not just 'men working out west'

"It is something you hear men working out west doing, but we're lucky to be home every night with our families," Googoo said.

Both Anderson and Googoo said the best part of the program was seeing the result of their work. 

"It was amazing to see what a group of us could do," said Anderson.

"When we entered the yard, it was just steel beams laid out, but once you have it all assembled and you look at the blueprints and look at your structure, and they're identical. It's amazing."

Depending on the arrival of materials, many women who took the training will get work on the project, foreman Delorey said. He hopes to start hiring next month.