No shock to find women electricians a rarity


Being a woman in the trades offers a rewarding career. Stephanie McCarthy is a Red Seal electrician. She’s currently working on our building renovation in downtown Trail as part of the Martech Electrical team.

“There are so many positives. I absolutely love being an electrician,” she says. “I love everything about it. I love the tools, the different situations, the experience.”

Stephanie did not start her working life in the trades, however, she came to see it as a path to good opportunities. She started her apprenticeship when she was 30 years old, and after nine years of balancing having children with training and working, got her Red Seal two years ago.

“I needed a career change. I wanted to have a good job, level up in life, and getting my Red Seal has definitely done that.”

“I always thought in high school that I was bad at math. I had a teacher tell me jokingly that I would never be an electrician. But at 30 I’d done some upgrading and taken some courses and found I was actually really good at math.”

Taking charge of her career

That doesn’t mean it is always easy—no career path is—and she wants other women considering the trades to have a realistic perspective about a career she loves and has every intention of continuing.

The stereotype of math and women was only the first hurdle she encountered. Just 3 of the 25 students in her class at college were female. She started working in residential electrical where it was difficult for her to get her hours as an apprentice.

“You have to look at who you will be paired with. Ask all the questions. You’ve got to have the type of personality that can handle it. The obstacles aren’t a surprise. You know they’re coming.”

She explains that a good mentor makes all the difference. Great foremen are open to questions and mentoring and helping you learn. She found all of the above when she joined the IBEW union (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and started working with Martech Electrical.

Martech has been her best work experience, and Stephanie would definitely recommend to anyone in the trades to join their local union. Along with better wages, benefits and RRSPs, the union hall provides plenty of local work opportunities.

Women make up only 4% of onsite construction trade workers in the country. Stephanie has been on projects with 10 to 15 electricians where she was the only female. Perhaps not surprisingly, she’s come across only one other female electrician in Trail, though at the union they are treated the same as the men. The Skills Centre renovation is a small job site with three electricians working at a time, and again she’s the only female journeyperson.

While there are more women in construction trades around the region, it’s clear that they are a rarity.

The demands of high energy & staying grounded

“Being an electrician means being good at intricate work. You gain the skills and experience to figure it out. It prepares you. The foundation is so strong. The challenges you face every day, and you’re constantly learning new things, that’s what I love most about it.”

The work can be physically demanding, and Stephanie loves the physical aspect and that it keeps her moving all day. When she started her electrician training, she needed to build up to the physical aspects. Now the physicality gives her the confidence she can get anything done.

For women coming into the trades, she says you’re going to be under the microscope more than a man would.

“You have to be prepared to work really hard. In school get good grades so that when you’re on a job you can show you know what you’re talking about. Once you can do that, it’ll be easier. It takes a certain kind of woman.”

“The positives far out weigh any negative for this career path. When you have that good crew it is amazing. It’s so much fun.”