Honolulu (KHON2) – Senior Electrician Wendy Pratt shared her story with Living808 about what it was like to work in a male-dominated construction industry.
Pratt served in the US Army from 1980 – 1984. Upon exiting the military she knew she wasn’t a good fit for desk work and decided to enroll in a trade school. She started with electronics and discovered that much of the work involved sitting at a work bench, not much different than a desk.
She explains that her ambitions were met with resistance, saying, “I asked the counselor about the Electrical Shop. Her response was that “Mr. JC don’t let women back there”. I informed her that the VA was paying for my schooling and that her response was not acceptable. I was able to get into the shop and not only was a top student, but also helped the guys that were challenged by the book work and math.”
A year later, her husband was transferred to Atlanta, GA where she applied at numerous residential electrical contractors, but never received a call back. She eventually started using only her first two initials with her last name on applications and finally was offered to take a pre-employment exam for one of the largest residential contractors in the city.
“I received a voicemail on my answering machine that I had “aced the test” and can start work on the next Monday,” says Pratt. “Upon arrival at the site I was told that a job was not available as they “don’t hire women”. I responded “you can’t do that”. The reply was “why do you think it’s only me and you having this conversation, so yes I can”. Highly disappointed, I spoke with my husband that evening and he told me there was an IBEW hall right down the street from his job site. “Go tell them your story”, he says. The next day I went to the hall told them what happened. Took the entrance exam. Became an apprentice. And have been an IBEW member for the last 33 years.”
Pratt has pride being with IBEW 1260 Union knowing that “our jobs are done right the first time. I am proud that no matter where in the world I live, I have the skills that will support my family.” The Code of Excellence is a good example of change for the better. The IBEW and its members, working with contractors, provide a safe work environment and perform our work to the highest quality.
As for what advice she would give to young females interested in the industry? “Work ethic is everything in the construction world,” stresses Pratt. “If you want to avoid the “one-man layoff list”, you must have an aggressive work ethic. Eight for eight and don’t be late! If you can’t motivate, hit the gate!
As a young female interested in electrical work, you will need to stay on top of your math skills. Algebra and geometry are a must. Many people have dropped out of apprenticeship programs because of the intense math. Bring the math skills to the table with you, take your studies seriously, learn your skills and tooling in the field, and you will leave that table as a journeyman electrician in 5 years.”