Our jobs, careers and dreams should challenge us so that we grow mentally, emotionally, socially, financially and sometimes, even physically.
I encourage more women to join trades because although accepted, it still isn’t totally “normal.” Women in trades, especially construction, should be the norm! We think differently than men, therefore we can bring different skills, a new way of thinking, change the dynamics of the work place for the positive, and reach solutions more quickly when we join forces.
As a third year apprentice electrician, I have only met three other female apprentice electricians. Two of the three work within my company, yet the three of us have never worked on a single job site at the same time. Men from all trades are often surprised to see women working in construction when we aren’t in a housekeeping position. To this day I’m told “I’ve never seen a female electrician.”
I am sure I will hear it more. With time and experience I am hopeful that it will fade out. I’ve found that respectfully men in the field have become more conscious about working side by side with women and workplace behavior and language has improved.‘This is construction!’ Is less of an acceptable excuse for foul language and disrespectful behavior. I appreciate my peers who defend my presence when such things take place.
Getting into a trade has been welcoming, rewarding and challenging. If you are a woman in search of something new in your life, a new career path, unsure if there is a next level within your current place of employment…find a trade! That was me. Women are creating a wave in trades today. I would encourage you to find a trade that interests you. Talk with family and friends who have established a career within a trade. Search trade schools within your area.
For me, it came a little easier. My older brother is a journeyman electrician who loves to motivate and teach others what he has learned. It only took him three years to convince me to become an apprentice electrician just before I was let go from my 8am-5pm front office job.
I immediately knew I wanted to enroll into a trade school. Within two weeks I was testing. Within a month I was in my classroom seat for my pre-apprenticeship and just a month after that I was graduating with an apprenticeship license in electrical. I then made the choice to further my education in the electrical field. In less than a year and a half I will complete my four year program, with enough college credits to have my associates degree.
If one person hadn’t shared their experience with apprenticeships with me I would have never had this life-changing experience. More communications and campaigns would highlight these opportunities. When I recently attended College and Career Day at my son’s elementary school, boys and girls told me how “cool” being an electrician is. These children who are in third through fifth grade already have an idea of what they want to do with their futures. As the only black woman in attendance it was rewarding to have a young black girl see herself in me. Motivational for another young girl to say she is considering electricity, proving no audience is ever too young for inspiration and goal setting.
Pre-apprenticeships are also important to connect Texans with new careers. My pre-apprenticeship gave me an upper hand on coworkers with the same on-the-job start date. I came into my company with my OSHA-10 course completed. I knew more tools, material and tasks to be completed compared to my counterparts. Participating in a pre-apprenticeship made me more appealing to my company when selecting students for the four year program, allowing an easy transition into my apprenticeship.
My life has changed for the better in just two short years. I’ve learned so much about myself and the world around me. I’ve built so many relationships I couldn’t otherwise imagine. Construction and working with electricity has boosted my confidence in myself and my children’s confidence in me. I’ve been able to speak on so many platforms representing women, single mothers, my field of choice and life in construction.
The payout for stepping out of my comfort zone and facing some fears head on has been nothing short of a blessing. I wish I knew what was out there for me a long time ago. I wish I knew all the opportunities I was missing out on. I would have explored this venture much sooner with so much more enthusiasm rather than fear and procrastination. I encourage all women to do what they fear. Step outside of your comfort zones and push yourself to new limits to inspire the next generation to be more than what others vision for us.
Jennifer Cobb is an apprentice electrician from Austin, Texas, a current member of Young Invincibles Texas Youth Advisory Board, and an alumni of the Young Invincibles Texas Youth Apprenticeship Council. She completed her pre-apprenticeship at Skillpoint Alliance and is currently a Third Year Apprentice at FSG.
For more information about expanding equity in apprenticeships, check out Young Invincibles latest report, Women and Parents in the Texas Workforce: Building a Path to Apprenticeship.