Rebecca - Electrician / Kaimahi Hiko

I just want to fit in. I mean, we’re all doing the same job. The only difference is that I’m a woman. That’s it!

Someone once told me that females inherently doubt themselves. We all have that little voice inside our heads telling us we can’t do certain things. I might be on site at a job on my own and be thinking damn, I’ve stuffed this up. I’ll get pretty wound up about it. But when I’m left to my own devices, I’m actually very capable. I might not initially know how to do something, but I know I will eventually work it out.

I’ve had to learn to back myself, to believe in myself.

I worked as a receptionist for a year. Before that, I was married and living on the farm with my kids. I hated being stuck behind a desk and a computer. It made my brain switch off and I was quite miserable. Being on the farm was different. I love being hands on. I’m that kind of person.

I decided I needed a job that paid better money. I saw a girl out the office window - there was an electrical company next door and she was getting into a sparky van. A female electrician! Seeing her made me think that I could be a sparky too. When I really started to loathe my job, I went to see a careers advisor. They asked me all these questions about what I like doing, what I thought my strengths were, what I’m good at. They gave me a list of jobs they thought might be suitable. Wouldn’t you know? Electrician came up. I thought, well, it’s time to go and do it!

There are girls out there like me who don’t really want to go to university. I’d had enough of school work by the time I left college. I’d had enough of sitting behind books and writing essays. But a lot of women end up going to uni because they feel pressured. You’re always told that in this modern world you need to earn a higher education. That’s fine for some, but not for all.

When I went back to polytech to learn my trade, I hadn’t been at school for a really long time. Using my brain and getting hands on again made me feel really alive. I suddenly felt I had purpose again.

I find most of the guys at work to be pretty good. One seems to have a bit of a problem with me, but I think that’s more of a reflection on him. It got tricky to deal with for a while, but we got it sorted out. You are going to get that, whether you’re male or female. I know of one girl who works more in the construction side of things and she’s had it pretty tough. Some men make it their goal to see if she will cry. You have to harden up a bit. It doesn’t mean it’s acceptable - it’s not - but you have to be thick skinned. At the same, I love working with guys. They like to come to work and have a bit of a laugh. I’ve found the male mentality is to give each other a hard time, to banter. It’s all in good fun. We have a lot of laughs and we look out for one another, which the main thing.

It’s funny, people look at me, look away, glance back and realise I’m wearing a tool belt. My two sons ask me to bring it home for them to play with. I’m trying to set an example to them. I want them to grow up knowing that they can do anything that they want to do, just like mum.
So I’ve passed all my exams. I’ve got another year and a half to get all the on-job stuff signed off. I’m starting to think about what I will do when I finish my apprenticeship. There’a an electrician that I’ve known for years, and he’s quite keen for me to work for him. I think he likes the idea of having a female sparky.

I’m debating whether I want to be a domestic sparky or not. This is a big generalisation, but male tradesmen tend to assume that the average woman at home doesn’t know anything about what we electricians do and that she isn’t interested. That isn’t true, but maybe that’s where I could get them more clients. Being a woman myself, perhaps they’ll trust me. Actually, a lot of people have said to me they’d rather have a woman in their house. Just the other day, a woman asked me if I would do a job in her home. She said she’d rather me do it than anyone else. It made me think that I could try to be my own boss. I could run my own business. There is definitely a niche market out there.

I don’t want to get to the end of my life and wish I’d done this, or wish I’d done that. I am very aware of how short life is and that if you want to do something, it’s up to you to make it happen. You see, it’s not just me and my tool belt.

I wear skinny-winny bikinis as well. I do body sculpting and I’m planning on entering competitions again next year. I spend a lot of time doing weight training in the gym. I cycle and run too. Exercising is so good for your head. You can be having a really crap day, then go for a blat and feel so much better for it. It’s good thinking time. Most importantly, I’m looking after my most important tool, my body.

I suppose I’m quite proud of myself. You know, I left my marriage and I wasn’t able to take my kids with me. I see them regularly, but my husband didn’t want me to take them. I pretty much started again with nothing. I went to tech and got here all by myself.

Sometimes I look back at what I started with, where I came from. I realise, well, actually I’ve got more guts than I thought. I could’ve played it safe, but I took risks and it was worth it. If you really want to do something, you must find a way to make it happen.

How do I get into this career?

To be an electrician you have to study for a while, but as soon as you get an apprenticeship you'll be working on-site and learning as you go:

- Try the Careers NZ website, the link will take you straight to more information about being an electrician. Their 'How to enter the job' section has a lot of really good info.

- You might like to follow up by emailing or visiting tertiary providers and asking them more about their courses.

- Another idea is to research local businesses, call them, and ask if you can go in for a day or a week to see what the job is actually like. This will allow you to quickly figure out if this sort of job is for you. This is called 'informational interviewing' and there are some great online resources on how to approach this.