Students Emily York, left, Emma Shaw, Megan Wright and Hanna Spitzer gather Friday at Capital Area Technical Center in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — When Emily York’s eighth grade teacher told the boys in her class about the great opportunity a career in trades would be, it only made her want to be a master electrician even more in order to prove him wrong.

Now, the Erskine Academy junior is in her first year taking electrical classes at Capital Area Technical School. And this week, she took part in the Maine Department of Education’s Totally Trades Virtual Career Week event aimed for girls in the state that want to pursue a career in the trades.

“It’s slightly intimidating knowing that there aren’t any other girls that I know doing it (electrical), but I am super confident in it,” York said. “It’s not like I need another girl there to be doing it.”

On Thursday morning, she attended the Totally Trades event virtually for her interest in being an electrician.

In it’s 19th year, the coronavirus pandemic forced the event online, which made it more accessible to girls across the state in grades eight through 12.

“Young men tend to be interested (in trades) in higher numbers,” said Suzanne Senechal-Jandreau, the event’s director. “Females that don’t see themselves pursuing a four-year degree, we want to open up their thinking to more careers or they may not have role models or public information about women working in those fields.”

Nationally, according to the Census American Community Survey, for natural resource, construction and maintenance occupations, 4.9% of 70,257 workers are female.

More specifically, in the farming, fishing and forestry occupations, 12.7% of workers are female. For production, transportation and material moving occupations, 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 that have the same interests that they do, as well as women who have chosen similar career paths.

“We provide resource information and if they are interested in learning about it more we can link them to mentors or people in the field,” Senechal-Jandreau said.

The event has two sessions a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, to be able to fit in with girl’s class schedule since during the week, it’s likely that they may have classes to miss.

In the past, there have been interactive activities that the girls could complete, like welding their name into metal or building a wooden tool box, but now, online, the participants have had to get creative and move to instructional videos.

York attended the electrical event on Friday afternoon, and said that “it was just an amazing experience.”

“It was a good experience, because it was women and because they were so inspiring,” York said. “Stacy Timberlake, a journeyman, said something so inspiring, ‘It will be hard, not because we are women, it’s just a hard job.'”

Other jobs highlighted included a woman from the Maine Department of Transportation that worked on a bridge building project, one from Lee Dodge Auto Mall that works as a mechanic and one who just retired from being a heavy equipment operator.

“We want to dispute the myths that we may have about a career that they have to be a certain stature, or a certain strength,” Senechal-Jandreau said. “Young women can do heavy loads too, we don’t want them to count themselves out.”

One of the employers attending the event is Charter Communications. They sent three of their employees to talk to young girls that may be interested in entering a communication-type job.

In a field that is traditionally male-dominated, they spoke about having to break down stereotypes that they had to face.

“It’s not uncommon to be asked if we need help with our ladder, even though that is a very specific requirement for our job,” Jen Gorgone, Jen Prouty and Bethany Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “Sometimes we’ll be asked if there will be someone else joining us at a job, or in awe that we know how to do this.”

They added that visibility and representation for women in the trade careers cannot only help diminish the gender stereotypes, but open the door for better paying jobs for females.

Lisa Thompson, an education technician for the auto collision class at Capital Area Technical Center, said an average class there usually has around two to five girls in a class of 15.

The students can volunteer to take the classes, which in York’s case with electrical, are two-year-long courses starting junior year. Depending on what class is taken, students can finish with a college credit, or the ability to start working right in the field.

Thompson said that 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. Honestly, there are few boys that may know a little more, but everyone is on the same playing field.”

As for York, she is hoping that through CATC’s technical program, and through the Totally Trades Careers event, she will be skilled enough to go to school to become a master electrician.

She said that the difference between being an electrician and master electrician is dealing with bigger wires, like comparing that of a house to a skyscraper.

“We can do just as much as the boys,” York said. “For so long we were put into a house, but now we can fix them, or we can work on cars — things that we could have done but were pushed to the side for so long.”

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