“When I got into the trade, I had never even used a drill before, but the point of an apprenticeship is to learn,” – Abby McKelvie, Local 530
Article originally published on nationalpost.com by Linda White.
Apprenticeship training offered jointly by ECAO and IBEW
For electrical apprentice Abby McKelvie, deciding to “grab the bull by the horns” was key to finding a rewarding career that pays well, provides benefits and involves hands-on work that requires critical thinking.
“I love it even more than I expected,” McKelvie admits. She decided to become an electrician after graduating university with a degree in outdoor recreation and tourism and working a year in her field. Today, she’s an apprentice with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 530 in Sarnia.
Today, McKelvie is well on her way pursuing two paths: construction and maintenance electrician, 309A, and instrumentation and control technician, 447A. Offered jointly by the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario (ECAO), the management association for electrical contractors, and the IBEW, the largest electrical union in North America, her apprenticeship combines on-the-job and in-class training – and allows her to earn while she learns.
McKelvie appreciates employers and unions that provide meaningful support for female employees and enjoys the camaraderie her union provides. Attending an IBEW Canadian Women’s Conference, for instance, allowed her to meet 200 fellow electricians, some of whom overcame unwelcoming jobsites and helped dismantle barriers for a new generation of female skilled tradespersons in a male-dominated industry.
“When I got into the trade, I had never even used a drill before, but the point of an apprenticeship is to learn,” McKelvie says. “You’re in charge of your own destiny so it’s really about grabbing the bull by the horns and going for it.”
Women have worked in the construction trades, including IBEW, for decades. Their numbers are relatively small, but their presence is growing. The industry is committed to attracting and supporting female electricians, says Cheryl Paron, international representative, first district (Canada), IBEW.
While it’s more common to see women on jobsites in the Greater Toronto Area than smaller communities, no woman is alone. The IBEW Women’s Committee hosts monthly videoconference calls, allowing women from across the country to be heard without judgement while providing opportunities to share best practices and create a welcome sense of community.
“You might be the only women on your jobsite, but through the committee, you can meet other women in your trade,” says Paron. “We also encourage women to take on leadership roles not only within their trade – such as becoming a foreman – but also as leaders in the union.”
Brianna Cloutier, a fifth-year apprentice with IBEW Local 115 in Kingston, says one of the things she enjoys most about being an electrician is the variety of work it offers. “You can work in residential, commercial, industrial and utilities. It’s good to continually challenge yourself by experiencing different aspects of the trade,” she says. “I completely enjoy what I’m doing.”
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