IEC is committed to helping its electrical contractor members attract, educate, and retain skilled workers to continue to serve their communities with the best in electrical and systems contracting. Core to that effort is member dedication to continual education themselves and to helping promote the satisfaction of choosing an electrical career to a diverse cross-section of potential candidates.
In honor of the recent annual Women in Construction Week (March 5-11, 2023), Insights recognizes just a few of the outstanding female leaders in our community whose commitment shines through by what they accomplish and who they influence. They exemplify the 2023 Women in Construction Week theme: Many Paths, One Mission.
I Want My Daughter to Know…
Gina Cumming is the events and marketing manager at IEC of Oregon and says her chapter began a concentrated effort about five years ago to interest women and other minorities in the electrical trade.
“The electrical and limited energy fields offer great opportunities for women to train for high paying jobs that can support themselves and their families,” says Gina. “Female apprentices currently make up about 4.6% of the enrollment in our apprenticeship program.”
Apprenticeship leaders feel word-of-mouth is the chapter’s number one tool to attract apprentices, and their biggest spokespersons are their current and former apprentices (like Briana and Jessica below). The chapter leadership group is passionate about the value of an electrical career and want all to hear the message.
Kayleen Williams is one of two apprenticeship directors at IEC of Oregon. Kayleen has a teenage daughter, and she feels it is important to show her daughter and her daughter’s friends that the trades are open to all. In addition to spreading the word for work, this is personal for her.
“I want my daughter to know that if she wants a career as an electrician, she can have it,” Kayleen says. “The biggest item I struggle with when discussing women in the trade is fighting the stereotype that this is a man’s job. No, it is for anyone who chooses to build an incredible career by working hard.”
A high level of effort is offered to help women feel comfortable and fit in with their classmates in the IEC of Oregon apprenticeship program, and it is one reason word-of-mouth is so powerful for them. The chapter groups women together in classes so they can support one another and the staff team is available by email and text to respond quickly to any concerns raised.
“We’ve done a lot of research into how and why women struggle to succeed in the electrical trade,” Gina says. “Sometimes women have to work even harder in the field to earn the respect of their fellow workers. And we need to listen when our women have challenges with, for example, shared bathrooms, poor fitting safety and personal protection equipment, and perhaps even a hostile working environment.”
Another strong recruiting tool for IEC of Oregon is its annual Celebrating Women in the Electrical Trades, a local event to showcase women in the electrical field held this year during Women in Construction Week on March 10. It’s a free event open to all who work or want to work in the electrical and limited energy / low voltage trades. Speakers address skills, self-care, and secrets to success. There is plenty of time for sharing among those who are navigating the industry, as well as with those considering entering the field.
IEC of Oregon looks forward to continuing to spread the word about this vibrant career and is strategizing how to use its newest recruitment tool, the IEC Volt Wagon. IEC of Oregon won the raffle at SPARK 2022 for the 20-foot long, 8-foot tall, 9-foot wide workforce development trailer built by IEC’s Emerging Leaders cohort. The trailer is a mobile marketing unit, complete with hands-on and virtual reality activities to help potential electricians understand the exciting careers offered in this trade.
IEC of Oregon Executive Director Cindy Regier says the entire chapter team and chapter members can’t wait to drive it to high schools, community colleges, job fairs, and elsewhere to energize and excite potential apprentice candidates.
I’m Taking My Place…
One of the apprentices benefitting from the IEC of Oregon attention is Briana Hunt, a second-year apprentice working with Bear Electric, Donald, OR. Briana says she chose to be an electrician because she was looking for a job where she could constantly grow physically and mentally.
“I thought it would be great for me because I like to work with my hands and build things and I like to work in a team while also having personal creative freedoms,” she says. “I didn’t really have much hesitation about being a female in this field. That’s something I’ve always been used to since the majority of my hobbies are also male dominated, like martial arts, woodshop, computer science, and video games. I did get a little nervous seeing the physical demand first hand but witnessing other women in the trade, both in person and through social media, made me realize it’s achievable.”
Briana believes she has already made huge strides in her personal growth to date in the IEC apprenticeship program.
“When I tackle a job and do well, I think back to when I was overwhelmed and needed direction almost constantly,” she marvels. “The safety trainings are impactful because it reminds you to stay humble and be aware of the real dangers of the job. I’ve gotten guidance from every journeyman I have worked with, and I have respect for all of them and for the time they give to help me learn.”
She also credits her father, Richie Hunt, who has always been supportive of her and her decisions. Her dad started his electrical apprenticeship in his 40s, after retiring from the Navy, and is now a journeyman at Bear Electric. Briana says she often hears from others at work on how much he is liked, respected, and helpful to them.
“My dad never pushed me to join the trade, but he guided me by example. He showed me that anything is possible, to do something you love, and that age is not a limiting factor. I just hope to be a fraction of how amazing he is,” she says.
And that chapter support? Briana had the benefit of working with a former IEC of Oregon apprentice, Evelyn Curry Goodman, who is now a journeyman at Bear. Briana says Evelyn immediately extended herself to offer help with school.
“I worked with Evelyn for roughly six months in our service department and I really miss our time together,” Briana notes. “I was blown away by her positive attitude, abilities, confidence, and speed. Just seeing her work really helped my personal confidence, especially as a woman. Anytime I had a question or struggled, she was right there with an answer. I remember being really impressed on how she would know exactly what type of house wiring to expect just from the area we were in and or from the year the house was built. The thing I love most about her is just how kind, patient, and supportive she is.”
Briana says the advice she’d offer other women considering coming into the field is the same she’d offer to anyone – understand that you are capable of anything!
“Be sure of yourself and your abilities and if you aren’t, then keep studying,” Briana says. “Being an electrician is a very physical job; you need to take care of your body. That is your most important tool and will help you with longevity in the trade. PPE is important; always have that available as it should be provided by your employer. Wear sunscreen every day and get a good pair of knee pads for crawling. Be yourself, have fun, but still take the job seriously. Start familiarizing yourself with power tools, what they do, and how to use them well; that will give you an edge starting out. I really love this work because there are so many different things to do. I can almost recall every job and experience! Each job is unique and the days don’t blend together at all. Being an electrician is really a problem solver’s job. In this trade you practice logic, math, get to exercise, and make people happy, which add fulfillment to my days.”
I Can’t See Myself Doing Anything Else…
Jessica Vertner is a journeyman at a family-owned business in rural Oregon started by her father, John Vertner. She is a graduate of the IEC of Oregon apprenticeship program.
“My father became an electrician in 1983 at the age of 19,” Jessica reports. “This year will be his 40th year as an electrician. He has worked for small companies, as well as large companies doing residential, commercial, and industrial projects over the years. John Vertner Electric started in 2015 after he decided he wanted to work for himself, as a supervising electrician in the state of Oregon. John Vertner Electric is a family-owned business that serves the greater Oregon coast as well as anywhere in the state of Oregon. We pride ourselves on honest work, for a fair price – the general principle of blue-collar, working-class people.”
Jessica started at the company in 2016. Jessica says she and her father have always been close – fishing, riding dirt bikes, general tinkering in the shop. But she wasn’t always sure that electrical was her path and, unfortunately, a bad experience at a local job corps thwarted her progress.
“Upon Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) testing, I was placed in an electrical program,” Jessica says. “Unfortunately, I had an instructor that was stuck in the 1940’s mindset that women should bear children and keep a clean house. I quickly learned that nothing can change those mindsets. I walked away from that experience thinking there was not a place for me in this field.”
Luckily, Jessica gave electrical another chance and it’s been great.
“I came into the trade again at 25 and was not sure this was what I wanted to do ‘forever.’ Boy, was I wrong,” she says. “In the last seven years, I have learned mechanics of vehicles and motors. I meet great people on a daily basis that believe women are equal. I feel rewarded when I pay all of the bills for the month and have nice personal things too. I am running about 75% of the company at this point, and it all starts with the most important piece of advice that was ever offered to me – How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
“I can’t see myself on any other career path. It’s a minimum eight-year commitment to become a supervisor in this state, and I have two more years until I can test for that licensing. The plan since the beginning was to take over for my father someday, and to become the signing supervisor for John Vertner Electric. This career path has been wonderful to me, and to my entire family for the last 40 years. I am hoping to continue to provide for my family for the next 40+ years, as I am strong, willing, and above all else, capable.”
That is the message she shares as she continues to push for more women and minorities to believe they too can have this career and independently provide for themselves with their own two hands.
“I am enthusiastic to see other young women believe that they, too, have a place in blue-collar society,” she offers. “Whether that means electrical, welding, plumbing, HVAC, or anything else. The ability to walk into someone’s home and have their daughter look at me with joy, and aspiration, is a humbling experience.”
She advises others to find inner strength, have a strong backbone, and believe in their own two hands and two feet. Jessica says this job is rewarding, never the same two days in a row, and needs qualified capable people to hop on board.
I’ve Seen Plenty of Change….
When and if Briana and Jessica have the chance to meet Susan Cox, they may want to say thank you. Thank you for showing everyone how to succeed as a woman in a male-dominated field. Susan is an owner of RKR, a company providing quality electrical contracting services to the Louisville Metro and Southern Indiana area.
“I’d go to IEC meetings at the beginning of my career, and most of the time I was the only woman in the room except for Betsy Rich-Reed out of Atlanta,” Susan remembers. “That has surely changed. I have seen more women in more of an active contracting capacity, including estimators, warehouse management, as well as women going through the apprenticeship program. Twenty years ago, most women involved were the wives of the owner and they were running the office part-time. I had people who helped me when I first started, and I am committed to helping others succeed as well.”
Those who helped her along the way? There were many, but Susan is super appreciative of three she met early on with IEC National: Denny Denier, Denier Electric Co., Inc., Grove City, OH; Harry Lieben, Northern Ohio Electrical Contractors Association executive director; and Jerry Kent from Kent Electric Systems, Houston, TX.
“They helped me get where I am in business today,” Susan says. “As contractors, Denny and Jerry really took me under their wings and helped me. They took me around to introduce me and break the ice. They taught me things I couldn’t learn in class. That’s why I’ve always been a proponent of the social aspect after sessions and the expo – that’s where you get a lot of helpful information. I’ve always said if I don’t pick up enough information to come back and change something to cover my expenses for that trip, you won’t see me anymore. Maybe it’s something from the expo, or maybe it’s hearing about an experience from one of my fellow contractors.”
Susan has seen change and cringes whenever she might still be mistaken as a contractor’s wife who is just along for the fun. She says there are many women contractors now and they need to be brought to the forefront as there is still much work to be accomplished.
“They need to know that they have camaraderie, and we have common experiences or that maybe my years in this industry can help them,” Susan says. “I’m forever starting conversations at convention with someone I haven’t seen before. I encourage them to step up and to not be afraid. I know it’s hard, because all personalities are different. I’m kind of that bull in a china shop and run headfirst into things. But that’s how we get seen and that’s how we get heard. The quiet voice can be heard too, and I use former IEC President Candy Branham as an example of that type of leadership. She is not a person that is going to step in the room and immediately be loud and be noticed. That’s going to be me. Candy is heard a different way and exemplifies women in construction. When I see new women at convention, I step in and tell them don’t be afraid to take classes, to offer your ideas, and to introduce yourself to people.”
Susan is a true believer in life-long learning. In fact, she originally went to college to be a math teacher so she could share her passion for numbers with students.
“I was taking a break from school before beginning my master’s degree when RKR’s bookkeeper retired,” Susan recalls. “My dad asked me to try it. His comment was ‘math is numbers, accounting is numbers. You can do it.’ That was in 1993, and I started the owner journey when my dad retired in 2000. As my role expanded, I taught myself everything from the ground up. I handle all the HR, PR, office management, and accounting except for annual, and I do not quote or manage projects or materials.”
It’s the teacher in Susan that comes out when helping other women navigate the electrical contracting field.
Leadership and Mentoring are Key…
Julie Tucker is executive director/CEO of IEC San Antonio, a role she has held since August of 2008. The road to this position was anything but straight, but Julie is thrilled to have arrived. Julie is one of 32 female execs leading IEC chapters nationwide.
“My path is a little odd,” Julie says. “I started out in medicine – physical therapy is what I had wanted to do for years. I earned my associates degree in science and had planned go to physical therapy school, but God had a different plan for me!”
She made a couple moves within the state of Texas, took a job in a general contractor’s association, earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and a master’s degree in business management, and worked a different job in the private sector before feeling at home with IEC San Antonio.
“IEC San Antonio found my resume online, interviewed me, and offered me the job,” Julie says. “I was thrilled! So, in August of 2008 I began my career with IEC San Antonio and have never looked back.”
Leadership and mentoring are key aspects of her role with the association. Julie loves that every day offers new challenges and new opportunities.
“I don’t believe there is a typical day in the association life; you never know what’s coming from day to day, but that’s one thing that makes it exciting,” she says. “Leadership is an hourly, daily, monthly asset that is needed to run a chapter. I mentor my staff and other executive directors across the country and it is one of my favorite things to do. I love helping new EDs in their role because we have all been the new kid. It’s great to see us all grow and succeed together.”
It’s a rewarding job, and Julie relishes the joy of accomplishment.
“I am so proud of my contractors when they are recognized with local or national awards, when their business grows, when they finish a job, when they feel accomplished, when they participate in one of our events and have a great time. Their smiles are worth everything!” Julie says. “I feel pride in my apprentices when they graduate, when they grasp a concept, and then when they come back after graduation for CE and J-prep classes, and when open their own businesses. It’s amazing to recognize when they see the possibilities and what they can accomplish!”
Part of her role at IEC San Antonio involves reaching out to women, and IEC San Antonio not only participates in high school career sites and promotes its Apprenticeship Program but it partners with local resources for assistance reaching women looking at career options.
“It’s hard to recruit women for this job, and we can’t do it alone,” Julie offers. “Ready to Work San Antonio and the Texas Workforce Commission have powerful reputations and top-notch resources so we work together with them.”
Ready to Work, like many state and local training, education, and employment programs, provides help from start to finish, including identifying appropriate career paths, connecting applicants with childcare and transportation resources, covering the cost of approved courses, preparing applicants for job interviews, and providing personal coaching throughout the process.
When you combine existing resources from government agencies that exist to guide people to sustainable careers with IEC’s nationally recognized training and the passion of local chapter members and staff, it’s a recipe for success.
“At IEC San Antonio, we’ll never give up on reaching out to women who may just find their forever career in electrical contracting,” Julie says. “It’s that important.”
Standing in the Spotlight….
What better way to change thought processes than to put women front and center as leaders and teachers? Vivian Blade spoke to a packed audience at SPARK 2022 in Louisville on the topic, Resilience Ready: Equipped to Thrive. Insights shares one of Vivian’s recent writings below.
3 Keys to Leading in the Never-Normal
How many times have the most important items on your to-do list been pushed aside because something unexpected pops up out of nowhere to become the most urgent thing on the agenda?
It happens to all of us. And today more than ever we find ourselves in a near-constant state of reactivity.
Change is all around us and it is accelerating.
In today’s environment leaders must be prepared for disruption.
Two months ago, who would have thought something as omni-present as Twitter would ever go away? And yet in the last 3 weeks there’s been a lot of speculation about whether or not the platform is going to make it into the new year. But that’s a topic for a future article.
Let’s be clear, change can be overwhelming for ourselves and our teams. Your job is to learn to lead differently, so that you minimize the chaos and overwhelm, and have greater resilience to successfully navigate the unknown.
What does leading well require in a never-normal environment?
- Resilience is Embedded in the Culture
In my research for the Resilience Ready book, I found that resilient organizations, teams, and leaders operate around five core principles – Perspective, Purpose, Perseverance, Partnership, and Praise. These principles are foundational to their culture and guide their approach to leading change.
- Adaptability is a Core Competency
Leaders must not only have the ability to adapt to change – they need to learn to adapt well. It’s not enough to adapt to what is coming at you. You must be aware of what is coming AND understand its impact. Be in control of your path forward instead of being in a constant reactive fire-fighting mode.
- People are Connected to the Purpose
One of the top reasons employees leave their jobs is because they don’t feel like they are doing meaningful work, or they don’t believe their organizations have a meaningful purpose. Someone once said that people quit their jobs long before they ever stop collecting a paycheck. Create the kind of work environment where people see themselves as part of the mission, feel that they have an important role to play, and want to contribute 100% of their efforts toward fulfilling the organization’s purpose.
When leaders learn to lead well, you have a real shot at stopping the revolving door of employees coming and going.
Vivian Blade is a recognized talent and performance excellence strategist; Vivian works with organizations who want to grow the high-performance capacity of an inclusive workforce and leadership pipeline. Her passion as a highly sought-after leadership expert, author, empowerment speaker, and executive coach is realized in inspired teams, increased talent retention and elevated business performance. Vivian delivers engaging keynotes and programs for conferences, association meetings and corporations, inspiring individuals to achieve dreams they never thought were possible. Vivian is a prolific writer whose articles, featured in a number of professional, industry, and business publications, and published books have helped thousands of professionals succeed. She is the author of the book, “FuelForward: Discover Proven Practices to Fuel Your Career Forward”, which reveals the inside secrets of career success, and contributor to two books published by the Association for Talent Development “Find Your Fit: A Practical Guide to Landing a Job You’ll Love”, and “Work the Problem: How Experts Tackle Workplace Challenges”. She is a frequent contributor to Forbes.com as a member of the Forbes Coaches Council. Vivian can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org