Women IN power – Erin Pollard
February 13, 2023 | By Anthony Capkun
“We are people doing a job, and we want to be successful—same as everyone else.”
February 13, 2023 – Just about anyone reading this magazine already knows that the electrical trades offer rewarding careers. And, as we transition to a fully electrified society in the coming decades, we’re going to need a lot more electrical pros. What if we could double the size of that talent pool by attracting and retaining the other half of the population?
This is why Electrical Business Magazine—along with our partner, Electricity Human Resources Canada—highlights women in electrical: to show both employers and future female apprentices that anyone with the right attitude and a fundamental aptitude can succeed in the industry when given the chance—regardless of who they are.
THIS IS ERIN POLLARD’s STORY
Her dad “was extremely proud when I became an electrician”, says Black & McDonald’s Erin Pollard, smiling. “He’ll tell everybody that his daughter’s an electrician. He’s always prepared to brag.”
She did not come to the electrical trade by the traditional means. That is, no one in her family is an electrician—or in a construction trade, for that matter—nor was she inspired by a high school teacher or the like. Instead, she decided one day she would just do it.
“I was in different types of administrative roles with the Toronto District School Board, and then I moved on to sales and stuff… but I was not feeling fulfilled,” she recounts.
“My dad—a police officer—will tell you that I got the inspiration from him after I helped him install a ceiling fan,” Erin laughs. “But, looking back, I was always sort of hands-on in high school; I took shop classes and enjoyed seeing what I could make.”
After making the decision to pursue electrical, Erin took it upon herself to start phoning electrical contractors to see if she could get hired as an apprentice.
“They all said, ‘Yeah, we’re looking for apprentices’ and they always sounded very excited,” Erin says. “And then they would ask ‘So, do you know how to bend conduit?’ Well, no… that’s why I’m trying to become an apprentice electrician.”
Erin felt discouraged after failing to get her foot in the door. Then, a unionized electrical contractor directed her to the IBEW, where she finally found out what was required to become an apprentice.
She was hoping that things would have started right away, but the union route took a few steps. Erin indicates, “I went ahead and did the application, and then the exam, and I did quite well.”
“After completing the mechanical aptitude test, I waited two years before I got called to work on my first job as a pre-apprentice,” Erin recounts. “I held odd jobs in between, like dog walking, landscaping and stuff like that… anything to fill in the gaps because I was just so bored at my job.”
It was roughly 20 years ago when Erin became an electrical pre-apprentice, then apprentice until, finally, she achieved journeyman status. As an electrician, she loved being able to use both her mind and body to complete most tasks.
She couldn’t help but notice a complete lack of women in the trades.
“There were no other females on any of the jobsites I went to—except once I saw a female painter,” Erin remembers. “Other than that, I hadn’t seen any females in the trades, regardless of electrical, mechanical, or whatever.”
In fact, Erin remembers when she joined the union that she was the 100th woman in a membership of 10,000, meaning all the female members accounted for just 1% of the membership.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Erin felt she needed to prove herself—doubly so, in fact—when she showed up on jobsites “because the other workers don’t usually see anybody like you”.
“You show up onsite, and feel everyone’s eyes on you. You know they’re thinking ‘Is she going to be able to do the work?’, so you have to prove yourself and exceed their expectations,” she says.
“I’m not the tallest, and I don’t look the strongest… but I have a deceptive physique,” Erin grins. “The journeys would shove me in the smallest spaces… and they were always surprised by how much I could lift. At the same time, why should it come as a surprise? I’m here to work.”
Erin still doesn’t see many women on the jobsite, but acknowledges there are incentives to attract more.
“There’s a special committee through the union to attract more women, which is great,” she says, adding that she would like to see more attention paid to attracting women to the tools—“at the ground level”—alongside project coordinators, managers, etc.
In terms of her own journey and the present day, “I did learn how to bend conduit, and I got really good at rigid pipe,” Erin says proudly.
“It’s a puzzle, right? Bending and figuring out how it all goes together, especially when you can twist it all on without hitting the ceiling or wherever… I’ve had ‘Aha!’ moments where I wake up in the middle of the night having figured out how to run that conduit.”
She sees herself as a lifelong learner. “I enjoy a challenge, and always feel there is something I don’t yet know.”
Outside the work of electrical, Erin is also pleased to have gained skills in communicating with people and managing personalities.
“Every person is different, so I end up having ‘Aha!’ moments with each of them when I figure out how they communicate. Then I can adjust the way I communicate with them.”
Today, Erin doesn’t feel like an anomaly. With her crew, “I am accepted for who I am. They’re my crew; we work very well together and I feel respected. They see me as capable in my role”.
In that regard, Erin feels women will be able to say We’ve made it only when “we no longer need to have organizations identifying our difference. We are people doing a job, and we want to be successful—same as everyone else”.
This is an excerpt from “Meet these Women in Power” (Winter 2023 ed.) You’ll find all Back Issues of Electrical Business Magazine in our Digital Archive.
Taking on an apprentice may be simple, but it is by no means easy, so hire smarter with work-integrated learning (WIL) opportunities, wage subsidies, and financial incentives for students and apprentices through Electricity Human Resources Canada. To learn more, VISIT EHRC.
Print this page