AUGUSTA – When Emily York's eighth grade teacher told the boys in her class about the great opportunity for a career in the craft, all she wanted to do was become a master electrician to prove him wrong.
w the junior of the Erskine Academy is attending electrical lessons at the Capital Area Technical School in her first year. And this week she attended the Maine Department of Education's Totally Trades Virtual Career Week event, aimed at girls in the state pursuing careers in the trade.
"It's a little intimidating to know that there aren't any other girls I know do (electrically), but I'm very confident," said York. "It's not that I need another girl to do it."
On Thursday morning she took part in the Totally Trades event virtually because she was interested in becoming an electrician.
In year 19, the coronavirus pandemic forced the online event, making it more accessible to girls in grades 8 through 12 across the state.
"Young men tend to be interested in more (in trades)," said Suzanne Senechal-Jandreau, the event's director. "Women who don't see themselves up for a four-year degree may want to open their minds to more careers, or they may lack role models or public information about women who work in these fields."
According to the Census American Community Survey, 4.9% of the 70,257 natural resource, construction and maintenance workers employed are female.
In agriculture, fishing and forestry in particular, 12.7% of employees are female. In the areas of production, transport and material removal, women make up 20.2% of the workforce, according to the same survey.
At Totally Trades Careers, girls have the opportunity to virtually meet others from across the state who have the same interests as them, as well as women who have chosen similar career paths.
"We provide resource information, and if they want to learn more we can link them to mentors or professionals," said Senechal-Jandreau.
The event has two sessions a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon to fit in with the girls' schedule as they are likely to miss classes during the week.
In the past, there were interactive activities that the girls could do, such as sealing their names in metal or building a wooden toolbox. w participants had to get creative online and move on to instructional videos.
York attended the electrical event on Friday afternoon and said, "It was just an amazing experience."
"It was a good experience because it was women and because they were so inspiring," said York. "Stacy Timberlake, a journeyman, said something so inspiring," It's going to be hard, not because we're women, it's just a tough job. "
Other featured jobs included a woman from the Maine Department of Transportation working on a bridge construction project, one from Lee Dodge Auto Mall who works as a mechanic, and one who has just retired as a machine operator.
"We want to dispute the myths we might have about a career that it has to be a certain stature or a certain strength," said Senechal-Jandreau. "Young women can also carry heavy loads; we don't want them to count themselves."
One of the employers attending the event is Charter Communications. They sent three of their co-workers to speak to young girls who might be interested in a communication job.
In an area traditionally dominated by men, they talked about breaking down stereotypes that they had to face.
"It is not uncommon to be asked if we need help with our leaders, although it is a very specific requirement for our job," Jen Gorgone, Jen Prouty and Bethany Fitzpatrick said in a statement. "Sometimes we are asked if someone else is coming to us or in awe that we know how to do it."
They added that visibility and representation of women in careers can not only help break down gender stereotypes, but also open the door to better-paying jobs for women.
Lisa Thompson, an educational technician for the autocollision class at the Capital Area Technical Center, said the average class there usually has two to five girls in a class of 15.
Students can volunteer for the courses which in York are Electrical Courses, which are two-year courses from the junior year. Depending on which class is in attendance, students can graduate with college credit or the opportunity to work on-site.
Thompson said it can be intimidating for young girls to want to take classes with all boys.
"I think that's one of the biggest deterrents," she said. "They are just as smart as the girls and they don't know more than the girls. To be honest, there are few boys who may know a little more, but they are all on the same playing field."
With regard to York, she hopes that through CATC's technical program and the Totally Trades Careers event, she will have the ability to go to school to become an electrician.
She said the difference between an electrician and a master electrician is having larger wires, like that of a house compared to a skyscraper.
"We can do as much as the boys," said York. "We've been put in a house for so long, but now we can fix them or work on cars – things we could have done that were pushed aside for so long."
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