What’s It Like Being a Female Electrical Apprentice With the IBEW?

IBEW female apprenticeAlisha Kelloway, a second-term apprentice with IBEW Local 353, talks about what it’s like to be learning the electrical trade as part of the IBEW – the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

“I love the sense of community with IBEW,” Kelloway says. “When you go to different locals you’re always welcome.”

While some apprentices are taken on directly at a union hall, Kelloway was sponsored by Neutron Electrical Contractors after she completed their pre-apprenticeship course. In 2016, she became a member of Local 353 through Neutron, as they are an IBEW partner company.

Competition for apprenticeship placements is always tough, no matter which avenue you take. Kelloway placed top of her class in her pre-apprenticeship program, out of a field of 20 male candidates. “My mom cried at my mini-graduation, she was so proud of me. Both of my parents were,” she says fondly.

The IBEW’s emphasis on training is also a perfect fit for Kelloway’s go-getter personality. “I believe knowledge is power. My goal is to keep learning and growing and pushing myself to become better. I love taking the courses provided by the union – I like knowing how to do things so if they ever call on me to do something at work I’m ready.”

But it’s doing electrical work that Kelloway loves most. “I love working on custom homes and renovations,” she says. “I love seeing the transformation to what the homeowner wants. It’s great to work on a building from beginning to end, from the rough in to going back to finish, from nothing to a house that’s really ready to be a home. I love seeing all the hard work we put in really come together.”

A ‘Can Do’ Attitude Goes a Long Way

Kelloway has found it hasn’t been difficult to show her coworkers how capable she is of being a first rate electrical apprentice.

“I’m this tiny person, I’m just over five feet tall, and a lot of other tradespeople on the job site don’t expect a lot from me. I quickly earn their respect by showing them I could carry as much as they could, learn as much as possible, and push myself. They soon changed their tune to ‘look at that tough little woman!’” she laughs.

Has she encountered any situations at the worksite where she’s had to rely on her fellow IBEW members to stand up for her? “To be honest, I haven’t encountered anything that’s thrown me off to the point where I need someone else to step in. I’m there to work and get my stuff done.”

Support and Mentoring from Fellow Women

One of the great benefits of IBEW is their positive attitude to women in the trades. In an effort to provide additional encouragement, Local 353 has a number of women who make time to support their younger sisters.

“I’ve been really lucky,” says Kelloway. “Everyone in the Women in the Trades Committee have always been there to answer my questions and to push me to do my best. Maggie Yen especially has been there for me – she’s wonderful. She and Karen Pullen have both been so awesome.”

A Part of Something Bigger

Aside from the Women in the Trades Committee, Kelloway also enjoys being a member of Local 353’s NextGen committee. “You feel you’re part of something bigger than just going to work and going home,” she says.

She’s a big supporter of all the community work that her NextGen group is involved with. “I’ve just started with our NextGen group last year, but already we’ve done a Thanksgiving food drive, and a walk for cystic fibrosis. We also did a suit drive, where we collected donations of business suits so people can make a good impression at job interviews. I like the idea of helping people better themselves.”

She’s also volunteered at the Skills Ontario competition leading up to the May 2018 event. It takes hundreds of person-hours to set up the display booths for the trades showcase and the project booths for the competition.

“It’s really awesome to see people in different levels of their apprenticeship and in their schooling. I met a lot of great people, and talked to a lot of young girls about what it’s like being an electrician. I was showing them how to strip wires, put marrettes on wires, that kind of thing. I’d like to see a lot more women in the trades – right now there’s not a lot.”

Is she thinking of competing in Skills next year? “There are a few of us in NextGen who might be applying together. I’m a little nervous but I believe the more uncomfortable you are, the more it helps you grow when you do gain that knowledge.”

Finding Her Way to the Electrical Trade

Kelloway credits her upbringing with inspiring her to enter a skilled trade. “I’ve always been a hands-on worker, and I like being capable of doing things myself. Both my parents are very handy, there were always lots of power tools around the house, and I think that rubbed off on me. My Mom renovated the basement basically herself, but with help from my brother and I. It was really nice to have that foundation to inspire me to learn more about building and that it’s not just something a man can do.”

Like many teenagers, Alisha worked a lot in retail, especially at her parents’ Bulk Barn franchise. But after she graduated high school she was faced with a difficult decision.

“I was always interested in health, so I applied for a nursing program and a dental hygienist program at my local college. But I didn’t want to waste my money when I wasn’t 100% sure. So I kept working, kept saving, and finally I knew I wanted to be in a skilled trade.”

“My Mom and Dad totally supported my decision. It was a good call because I love what I do!”

While she’s the only female electrician at Neutron so far, she really enjoys the culture. “We have each others’ backs and they’re there for me 100%, they’re really a great bunch of guys and so respectful. We’re like a great big family. I couldn’t have been luckier than starting my apprenticeship with them.”

Advice for Young People Considering the Electrical Trade

Kelloway says that if someone has a keen interest in the trade, they should go for it. “Don’t hesitate to push yourself out of your comfort zone to learn. It is hard! It can be dirty! But it’s still totally rewarding to earn a living using your hands and your mind at the same time.”

That’s the appeal of the trade to Kelloway – the constant learning. “There’s always more to electrical – it’s never ending. You can keep learning and never get bored!”

Read more about women electricians in the IBEW >