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Female electrical apprentices are very committed and focused, with a very good eye for detail, according to the Electrical Training Company

Young women switching on to a smart career

The electrical industry is no longer just a man’s world. A new generation of female electricians is emerging nationwide – and employers are welcoming them with open arms.

New Zealand desperately needs more electricians. There is a critical shortage of licensed electricians in New Zealand – it’s estimated that 3000 more are needed to meet demand, including in construction.

While women apprentices training with the Electrical Training Company – New Zealand’s leading training provider for the electrical industry – remain in the minority, those who are pursuing electrical careers are excelling.

Electrical Training Company chief executive Jeremy Sole says more companies need to plan for the future – and that means taking on apprentices to meet demand. “More trades employers are recognising the benefits of hosting one of our young men and women on their teams. And it’s a trend I highly encourage,” he states.

“Our apprentices are employed for the duration of their apprenticeships and placed with host employers that ensure they gain skills and experience in a variety of domestic, commercial and industrial settings. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”

Mr Sole says all training costs, apprentice salaries, annual leave, sick leave and pay during block release are covered by the Electrical Training Company. “Demand is such that every one of our apprentices is currently in a placement. We have a 95% completion rate and our apprentices typically achieve 10% higher grades in their exams than others do elsewhere in the sector.”

The right career choice

Now qualified and licensed, Sarah Pye of Setpoint Solutions in Dunedin was one of the Electrical Training Company’s top students in 2016, being placed third at the Master Electricians Challenge and winning the Dale Carnegie Highest Award for Achievement.

Sarah Pye: “People react with a mixture of surprise and curiosity when I tell them what I do for a living”

Like many other electricians, Sarah originally planned to go to university after high school, but didn’t feel inspired by any of the courses on offer. Nothing really grabbed her, so she decided to do an electrical apprenticeship instead. The big focus on technical skills and problem-solving appealed to her – and she hasn’t been disappointed.

Sarah says she has found that people react with a mixture of surprise and curiosity when she tells them what she does for a living. Once they have recovered from the initial shock, they usually say ‘Oh wow – that’s great!’

Sarah has no doubt she made the right career choice. She enjoys working in a wide variety of settings – homes, university buildings, hospitals, hotels and even casinos – and gets huge satisfaction from working on a project from start to finish. The most satisfying part? Seeing things work. Sarah explains: “It’s the best feeling when you’ve painstakingly set up 100 lights and finally get to switch them on.”

No barriers for women

Bianca Pilkington, 20, from Tauranga, says that job satisfaction was a major factor in encouraging her to apply for an electrical apprenticeship, rather than university. “I always wanted a hands-on, practical career – one that involves using your brain and earning while you are learning – but I didn’t want to go to university and have to run up a student loan,” she says.

“I like the fact that every day is different and every day I’m learning something new. There are no barriers for women in the electrical sector. In the workplace and in training, I get treated just like all the guys.”

Desire Notley: “It’s great being paid while you learn – that was a big driver for me”

Desire Notley, 20, from Napier, is hosted by Hastings-based Direct Earth Electrical and is due to finish her apprenticeship this year. “I left school in the middle of Year 13 to take up my apprenticeship with the Electrical Training Company. My main interest at school was textiles, but I’d done physics and maths to keep different doors open. I wanted to get a good qualification behind me, but I didn’t want a student loan. My careers advisor told me about the apprenticeship,” she says. 

“It’s great being paid while you learn – that was a big driver for me – but I also love the work. I really like the practical hands-on aspect, and meeting a lot of different people.”

Jessica Curtis, 19, from Rotorua, is hosted by local company Integrated Systems Design. “I’m very practical and I really like the hands-on aspect of the learning. At school I took part in a Gateway work experience programme with an automotive mechanic, which I enjoyed, and a teacher suggested I look at electrical apprenticeships and told me about the Electrical Training Company,” she says.

“The company does a lot of automation in places like sawmills – it’s really interesting. I enjoy the fact that every day is different and I’m learning something new every day.”

Jessica Curtis: “I enjoy the fact that every day is different and I’m learning something new every day”

Good for the industry

The Electrical Training Company currently has 36 females among its 605 apprentices nationwide – and more than a quarter of them are in Harry McCulloch’s patch.

The Electrical Training Company apprentice coordinator for Hawke’s Bay, Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty, Mr McCulloch says he doesn’t know why he has such a high proportion of female apprentices – 10 out of 74 trainees – but he’d like more.

“They are very good for the industry. In my experience, female apprentices are very committed and focused, with a very good eye for detail,” he says. “There’s such a shortage of electricians nationwide and we’re always looking for capable young men and women, or people looking for a career change.”

To become an Electrical Training Company apprentice, you need to have, or be working towards achieving, eight or more NCEA Level 2 credits, in maths, English and an industry-related science, such as physics. Applicants also need to have a minimum of a restricted manual driver’s licence and a car, at least New Zealand residency and good colour vision.

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