When 34-year-old Katie Miller decided to re-enter the workforce, she knew exactly what she was looking for in a job.
“I didn't want a desk job where I had to wear pantyhose,” Miller said. “I wanted to be active, work outside at least part of the time, be well paid and build things.”
Because Miller had enjoyed remodeling her home with her husband and three children, she decided to look into the electrical trade. Miller was not the least bit intimidated by venturing into a predominantly male-oriented industry. In fact, her greatest challenge isn't the fact that she is the only woman on an all-male job site; it's her height. Standing 5'4" tall, which she says is “average for an American woman but short for an American electrician,” Miller often finds herself up and down a ladder to get the same amount of work done as her male counterparts. Her height is also an advantage, however, because she can squeeze into crawlspaces and tight spots.
As a second-year electrical apprentice for Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC) member, Bear Electric Inc., Miller (pictured at right) admits that she doesn't have a lot of extra time for anything beyond work, school and her family. “The electrical apprenticeship program is a pretty intense four years. But I know the time I spend learning now will payoff in the long run,” she said.
Miller doesn't think there is anything special about who she is or what she does for a living: “I'm just a normal American woman with a family and a desire for a satisfying job and a good paycheck,” she said. “Electrical work is an excellent trade. I hope that other women will look at me and think, ‘I can do that, too.’”
Miller and millions of other women just like her might be the answer that the electrical contracting industry is desperately seeking, said IEC President Gary Baumgartner.
“We've all seen the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers,” he said. “The annual growth rate for men entering the workforce between now and 2010 is a measly 0.9% while the growth rate for women is projected at 1.4%. Perhaps the answer to the workforce shortage is marketing the industry to a new group of people — women.”
Electrical contracting is ideal for women who don't want to be tied to a desk but do want to get a little exercise, says Baumgartner, who is also president of Baumgartner Electric, Sioux Falls, S.D. “Not all little girls grow up dreaming to be prima ballerinas, nurses and teachers. Sometimes, they grow up wanting to be policemen, firemen and electrical contractors,” he said. “Many little girls want to grow up and wear a utility belt ‘just like dad.’ Other times, they remodel their homes and decide they would like doing electrical work for a living.”
Whatever the reason, Baumgartner said that women want the same challenges, experiences and opportunities as their male counterparts. “It's time for the electrical industry to step up to the plate and give them exactly what they are looking for — a satisfying job and a good paycheck,” he said.
Tracey Cook is the communications manager and editor of IEC INSiGHTS magazine, published by the Independent Electrical Contractors Association, Alexandria, Va.
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