When Althea Burgett has gone to interview for electrician jobs wearing makeup and high heels, she said, the interviewer always looks at her a little funny.
“People are looking at me like, ‘Can you swing a hammer? Are you in the right interview?,’” Burgett said, laughing.
Still, Burgett, who was the only woman out of 20 students to complete a recent six-month residential and commercial electricity class at Orleans Technical College, has received two job offers — one to be a locomotive engineer for New Jersey Transit and another to be a signal maintainer for SEPTA.
Ten other women are on track to graduate from Orleans Tech this month, including five in carpentry and five in building and maintenance, according to administrators at the nonprofit career school operated by JEVS Human Services.
Women have enrolled in the electrical course in the past, but none in the last group of graduates. Two other courses — A/C refrigeration and heating (HVAC) and plumbing and heating — don’t have any female students currently enlisted, but did in the last group of graduates. Since 2003, 24 women have graduated in residential and commercial electricity.
At the end of 2016, approximately 939,000 women were employed in various occupation sectors of the construction industry, accounting for less than 10 percent of construction workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of those, 12,832 worked in the electrical field, representing 2 percent of all workers in that industry. The median income for a woman who is an electrician is over $50,000.
“The number of women at Orleans Tech is consistently on the rise, which means a range of industries are being enhanced with talented people — and that more and more individuals are finding their niche in fulfilling careers that allow them to support themselves and their families,” said Bill Lynch, president of Orleans Technical College, in a statement. “Again and again we hear from students who had never previously considered the building trades as a legitimate career option.”
> Read more about Athea’s story as a female in a male dominate industry at The Philadelphia Tribune.