Not so long ago I was an electrical apprentice. It took me 6 years to complete the 6000 hours of workplace experience and 40 weeks of schooling. I had good days and bad days and made some friends along the way. I also met some people I could’ve lived without knowing.
I was such a pain in the neck, I was seen as a burden being the only female on site. No one knew how to talk around me, they would go silent and avoid eye contact, fake laugh at my attempt at jokes, and sometimes cringe when they were sent to work with me. I was extremely nervous and anxious at first and can remember doing some stupid newbie things.
On my first job I remember a guy my age who was my journeyman telling me to pull this data wire from this square in the ceiling to this other ceiling tile. So, I went up the ladder and threw it across and cut it. My journeyman came back, and I reported the task finished.
He was outraged that I had cut the wire, because:
A) I hadn’t tied it to the ceiling at all, it was just flopped on the ceiling tiles
B) I had pulled it diagonally, and we always try to match the cable pulls perpendicular to the tiles, so it looks nice, and
C) it was too short to be tied up properly now, so the cable was wasted.
In this I learned two things:
I had to ask more questions.
If you admit it’s all your fault other people that were responsible for showing you what to do will have no problem making you look bad.
I had my first experience of being thrown under the bus here, as when the foreman came over to ask why the cable was wasted, my journeyman, who was supposed to be teaching me how to do things, told him I had messed up and insinuated I was not cut out for this work. He washed his hands of all responsibility and I let him do it. This same journeyman a few days later told me he had turned off the power in a cable I was to splice, but had forgotten a neutral wire was shared with a line that was still turned on, so I got electrocuted for the first time.
This was another lesson:
Never trust anyone with your life.
My favorite memories are when old men would apologize for swearing in front of me, and I would get to rebut with a comment about my virgin ears ringing. Or being called “sweety” or “hun”, and asked “what would people think if I let you carry all this by yourself?” I, of course, acted as any pain in the neck millennial would, never wanting to be told how to do something but always wanting a task I could control. The anger would rise too quickly when someone would take the tools out of my hand while I was working, and sometimes this gained me respect, other times lost me some. I sometimes would argue to do it a way that, to me, seemed easier and quicker, when in hindsight I should have just shut my mouth and done the task.
I was such a pain in the neck, that when a woman my age became my journeywoman and told me (her apprentice) that she didn’t know how to build a cable tray (which was our task for the day), I lectured her about why we should just figure it out and how it would be a good learning experience.
I was upset because:
A) She was one of my first female mentors telling me she couldn’t teach me how to do something.
B) I wanted to soak up as much knowledge as possible in my apprenticeship and felt ripped off every time a journeyperson wasn’t performing as a teacher.
C) Didn’t she realize that to survive in this industry you were expected to lie when you didn’t know how to do something, and figure it out pretending you knew all along how to do it?!
It was embarrassing to me, when I realized our foreman had heard me tell her: “well I guess this will be a good learning experience”. He came over to us, pointed to me and said: “So you’re the apprentice, and she is the journeyman, right?” I think this was to set us both straight in case we were considering collaborating instead of accepting the power structure the industry thrives on. I realize now that I was trying to fit into the masculine culture I was a part of and had missed an opportunity to figure out a task the feminine way at that time, where we can admit when we don’t know something and still figure it out and get the job done.
I was a pain in the neck to myself because I was focused on whether the work I was doing was meaningful, and every bad day would send me into an existential crisis.
I’d ask myself:
Why couldn’t I see my work as the reason to live like my old baby boomer journeymen. They worked all the time and loved it, yet I felt I needed to have balance between work and play time to keep my head in the game.
Why was I always struggling with how to achieve my future goals, and why couldn’t I appreciate the structure and current direction of my work the way my gen-X co-workers seemed to find satisfaction?
I now realize that the mentality of a Gen-Y worker bee is what I was experiencing. There are a lot of articles on the internet detailing how being born in a certain generation can affect your attitude towards work and communication style. It’s quite an eye opener when you end up on job sites with a variety of ages and see how the older guys, compared to the younger guys, view their jobs and how they share their knowledge and information. We have different generations with different political and social expectations, and when we learn to understand the motivation behind them, we can better navigate in our workplaces.
Since coming to terms with how much of a pain in the neck apprentice I was, as a Gen-Y millennial, as well as an out gendered worker bee, I have come across a good book I would like to recommend to other women in male dominated industries to help them better understand and cope with what they are experiencing. It’s called: RULES OF THE GAME, women in masculine industries by Teagan Dowler. It’s great and it’s the handbook we’ve all been waiting for! I bought it online here: Rules Of The Game Book
So yeah, I was a pain in the neck, Gen-Y millennial, entitled, hard ass, feminist apprentice. And now I’m a pain in the neck, Gen-Y millennial, entitled, hard ass, feminist journeywomen. Why change a good thing?