The Best Job Ever

Trainee Finds a Warm Welcome At PUD
By Rodger Nichols

Cherish Southard, an electrical technician trainee at Northern Wasco County PUD, with the spillways on The Dalles Dam in the background.

Cherish Southard loves her job. The 30-year-old is an electrical technician trainee at Northern Wasco County PUD’s energy-generating project at The Dalles Dam.

“I love it so much that I want to retire there,” she says. “It gives me so many learning opportunities.”

Cherish says the job involves a lot of inspection and preventative maintenance.

“The most surprising thing about the job is how much goes into power generation,” she says. “There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of things you really need to watch and monitor and keep under control.”

There are many systems involved— including hydraulics, pneumatics, and mechanics—and the PUD is interested in cross-training. Cherish says one of the opportunities she hopes to take advantage of is learning how to weld.

“When I first started, we built a weld shop,” she says. “We needed to repair stuff on-site instead of trying to find parts in Portland and drive there, only to find out it’s wrong. We do a lot of stuff in-house, which is great for me. The more I know, the more beneficial I can be.”

Cherish was raised in Klickitat. She is pleased about her unique name, which she says meant no one was ever able to make fun of it as a child. She also said every teacher, once they learned her name, had to sing a bit of the 1966 hit “Cherish” by The Association.

“There are a lot worse songs that it could have been,” she says.

Cherish’s roots run deep in the community. Her great-grandparents started Huntington’s Steak House, a local landmark. Although the family sold it in the 90s, she says the new owners have kept up the reputation.

“They still serve a great steak,” she says.

Her journey to the job has had its twists and turns. Cherish graduated from high school in 2007 and was accepted to Washington State University.

“I was going to be an archaeologist, of all things,” she says.

But the following year, a recession hit, and banks were not making student loans.

“I rode it out as long as I could,” she says but wasn’t able to continue.

That led to unsatisfying jobs in retail for several years.

“I realized that’s not what I wanted to do,” Cherish says. “My dad is an electrician, so I asked him if I could job shadow him one day.”

Cherish inspects locations throughout The Dalles Dam as part of her job.

She liked what she saw and signed up at Perry Technical Institute in Yakima.

“It’s a great program, and I got really good grades,” she says. “It’s fascinating stuff and actually came pretty easily to me. A lot of women aren’t in the trades, so I figured that would work to my advantage a little.”

Cherish says a lot of people become an electrician to start a business and be their own boss. But that takes a lot of startup funding and a certain kind of personality.

“It’s kind of in the back of the mind that you could be your own boss,” she says. “But at the same time, I really don’t think I’ll ever do it. Some people are meant to be alphas, but I’m fine with where I am.” Cherish applied for the PUD job on a whim. She did well on the interviews, which included tests on theoretical knowledge and practical application.

“I had to do an actual electrical test where I had to wire some things up to prove that I knew what I was doing,” she says. “Then they asked for my transcript from technical school and offered me the job. I was hired on May 21, 2018. I’m so lucky. I still can’t believe it.”

After 18 months on the job, she is still enthusiastic.

“I’m so lucky, I still can’t believe it,” she says.

Cherish recommends working at the PUD.

“It really is the best working environment I’ve ever been in,” she says. “Unlike retail, I don’t dread going to work every day.”