Kayla Contreras likes a challenge. So when her older brother encouraged her to become a wind tech like him, she didn’t hesitate.
The toughest part for this 22-year-old was getting into the mental headspace to free climb 300 feet up a wind tower. “I had never even climbed a ladder before getting into this,” she says. “For me the challenge was just telling myself that I could do it.”
Kayla’s leap into the unknown was fueled by life experience, the support of her brother, her training program, and a healthy dose of tenacity.
Her childhood in and around Oklahoma was a difficult one. With her mother incarcerated and her father out of the picture, she and her four siblings bounced between family and foster care. “It took a village to raise us kids. Our grandmother got custody and took care of us as best as she could,” she says. Like her other siblings, Kayla left home early.
She was living with her older brother, working two jobs and barely making ends meet, when he reminded her of something they both learned early in life: “You have to take care of yourself, because no one is going to do it better than you.”
That’s when they started talking about a career in wind energy. “I’ve seen how it’s turned his life around. The things we grew up with pushes us to do better now. We didn’t have a lot of anything growing up so coming out of poverty is one of my biggest motivations.”
Impatient with her situation, Kayla signed herself up for training straight away. “I don’t like waiting for stuff to come to me, I want to go get it,” she says. She studied wind energy at Canadian Valley Technology Center in El Reno, Oklahoma before enrolling in the wind tech training program with Workrise, where she received 15 wind energy certificates. She says the hands-on training gave her the “know factor” to handle every aspect of the job, from climbing, to safety protocols, to the first-aid skills necessary to get an injured co-worker “down to the ground and back to their families.”
Getting into climbing shape and dealing with the elements were some of the steepest learning curves for Kayla.
I had to push myself so that I could climb in a good amount of time,” she says. “My instructor challenged and inspired me to get through it, and I started work the week after.Kayla — Wind Technician
Kayla is currently working on a program retrofit project in Iowa, replacing the plungers inside the hydraulic cylinders that work as breaks on the turbine. Talking shop with her brother is one of the perks of the job. “It’s cool to be able to bond with him over work,” she says. “He gives me really good advice.”
She’s also enjoying her crewmates, whose integrity and collective experience in the field have helped her feel calm, safe, and supported. “Everyone looks out for each other. It’s the people that make it worth it at the end of the day,” Kayla says.
Though she’s the only woman on her crew, she says she doesn’t feel out of place. “Gender doesn’t matter. We’re all brothers and sisters out here.”
Even if that wasn’t the case, says Kayla, she’s too focused on her work to spend time wondering how she’s perceived. “I’m a hard worker. Everything else doesn’t matter.”
As someone who “wasn’t very strong at the beginning of this,” Kayla encourages other women to join the skilled trades. “If you tell yourself you can’t do something, you won’t. You have to be your own supporter and your own fan, cheering yourself on and getting yourself into the right mindset.”
Now she’s hoping to use that mindset to get into Lock Out Tag Out (LOTO) school, which will certify her in safety procedures crucial to the wind industry. Then she’d like to work towards a promotion to site lead. “I want to eventually know every aspect of this career,” Kayla says. “There’s always room to improve for me. The sky’s the limit.”