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Episode 181: How Two Women Changed Careers to Become Electricians, with Darci Spiteri and Shannon Tymosko

Episode Description

Shannon Tymosko and Darci Spiteri are both electrical apprentices with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, or IBEW, local 105, in Canada. They are friends and colleagues. Shannon made a career transition from short term lending to become an electrical apprentice and she is also an Ambassador for KickAss Careers, a Canadian organization promoting the trades to young people as a career choice. Darci is a relauncher who originally was a project manager in marketing. After a three-year career break, she received a Second Career Grant from the Canadian government, which funded her electrical apprentice training. Darci and Shannon talk about their path to becoming electricians and get into detail about what they do and how they are progressing.

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Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO, and co-founder of iRelaunch, and your host. This podcast is part of our mini-series on relaunching in the trades, which began with our conversation with Judaline Cassidy, my Lean In leaders colleague, who founded Tools and Tiaras to teach girls and women about the trades, and who relaunched as a plumber in the United States.

Today, I'm thrilled to be speaking with two Canadian women in the trades, Shannon Tymosko and Darci Spiteri, who are both electrical apprentices with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or IBEW Local 105 located in Hamilton, Ontario. Shannon made a career transition from short-term lending to become an electrical apprentice. And she's also an ambassador for KickAss Careers, a Canadian organization promoting the trades to young people as a career choice. Darci is a relauncher who originally was a project manager in marketing. After a three-year career break, she received a second career grant from the Canadian government, which funded her electrical apprentice training. Today, we will talk about Darci and Shannon's path to becoming electricians and get into detail about what they do and how they are progressing. They are friends and colleagues, and I'm thrilled to be interviewing them together for today's podcast.

Darci and Shannon, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.

Shannon Tymosko: Thank you so much for having me here today. I really appreciate it.

Darci Spiteri: Yes. Thank you for having us.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I'm so happy to be talking to both of you at the same time and getting these two different perspectives. Shannon, can you start by telling us how you two met each other?

Shannon Tymosko: So Darci and I met at an event that was held at our local hall. There was an announcement that was going to be made by Premier Doug Ford regarding investing money into the skilled trades to try to get more people in it, specifically women. And because I think they were wanting to get women, they wanted to have some women to represent, they reached out to the two of us asking us if we would like to be there to attend the event. So I said, “Yes.” And it was because of this, that I met Darci.

So we got to meet Premier Doug Ford, the Minister of Labor Monte McNaughton, and do a little bit of electrical demonstration in the back. And so that's how I met Darci.

The nicest thing for me was meeting, not just Darci, but there was two other journeywomen there. The four of us make up a very small percentage of our hall. I think these numbers are very loose, but I think our hall only has about 1,500 to 2,000 members. And from my understanding, there's maybe only 15 to 20 women.

So to be able to meet other women that are in our hall, it was such a pleasure, because you don't really see them very often.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. That's about 1%. So there's a long way to go there, but great to have both of you at the helm. Interesting. So let's start by getting into some more details about what you were doing prior to your apprenticeship and how you found out about careers in the trades and how you decided to pursue an electrical apprenticeship. Darci, can you please start us off?

Darci Spiteri: Sure. So I was working for a number of marketing companies and the studios, and I was doing part of the traffic team, so basically trafficking design jobs throughout the studio. And then from there, I had heard about a second career grant, which was through the Canadian government, but there were very specific requirements to be able to qualify for this grant. And I was able to qualify once I was working for an animation company and they had gone into receivership.

So from there, I then had to take a contract position and those were two of the requirements to qualify. So then I was able to do a bit more research on what I really wanted to do, because I fell into a lot of my jobs, so I never really had that time after high school to just sit down and plan what I want to do.

And when I qualified for the grant, I started looking at women in trades and was just getting so inspired by reading their stories and wanting to research more on that, and ended up going to a school here in Burlington. And the guy that ran the intake for the program had asked if I wanted to do electrical. I kind of started researching from there and was interested that way.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. We talk about at iRelaunch how people, when they first get out of school, they might just fall into a career like you're saying, you just, you don't really know. You don't know that much about yourself. You see what kind of opportunities around you and just take one. And then, later you have this opportunity, you know yourself a little better, you're thinking. “I'm going to be a little bit more intentional and strategic about this and really pick something that I think will be interesting.” So it sounds like you had that opportunity to do.

Darci Spiteri: Yeah. I also worked for my dad for a little bit, and it was a print shop. We worked with so many different companies. I was exposed to so many different jobs that I had no idea even existed in high school, which was amazing to have that opportunity.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Shannon, what about you?

Shannon Tymosko: I originally went to college for child and youth work. And while I was in school, I started a job at a short-term loan company, payday loan company. I'm not sure if you have them in the States. And I graduated from college and I started working at a shelter for homeless youth, and I did that for a few years. And sadly, that didn't really pay well enough to take on full-time. And so I did what you just talked with Darci about, I fell into that job, that permanent job just fit. And eventually, I worked my way up from just a customer service rep, to management and, eventually the head office.

And at that point, I was auditor and training coordinator for a payday loan company. I was still slowly going into debt month after month. It was one of those jobs that you just, you don't even really survive on, but you survive and you don't thrive. For me I would like to have wants, I would like to purchase a car because, not the price tag, but because I want that car.

I dreamed about that car, I just want to be able to live. And so I started looking for other employment after several months of that, my friend actually purchased a home, my best friend, Matthew. He looked at me the next day after getting the keys and he said, "Shannon, I want to rip out the kitchen."

And I said, "You're absolutely nuts. Most people in my family, they start renovations and they literally take 10 years to finish the renovation. You need your kitchen Matthew, are you sure you want to do this?" So, we did. We pulled out the kitchen the next day. And that progressed to other things in the house. In the basement, it wasn't finished, and it was just cement walls. So we put the framing in, we did the dry walling, and that's where I did my first little plug and play lights. It's my first kind of exposure to electrical. And it was the pride that I got doing all these little at home tasks or these renovations and realizing that, I could do this.

You know, these things I looked at and thought, "Well, this is a man's job. This isn't a woman's job." And then I’d tackle it and I do it, the confidence and pride that you get when you can look at something and say, "I built that," I had nothing to compare it to. And so thought, “This is something that I could do. This is something that I could spend eight hours a day doing.”

At the time I was 30 years of age, I had more work in front of me than I didn't. I thought, “it's not too late to change,” and so I started looking up other avenues. It's really hard to find a job when you're a really green person, green bean, and have no industry experience in the trades. So I found it really hard trying to apply for jobs, but then I came across this pre-apprenticeship program that was run through the YWC, trying to get women into the skilled trades. And I applied. That program is what helped transition me and give me that kind of education and support to help me get that job. And that's how I'm here now.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. Great. And Shannon, can you get into a little more detail about the early steps? Are you in a classroom first and then they put you out in the field, or do you shadow someone, how does that work?

Shannon Tymosko: Darci and I's journey is actually a little bit different. And so for me, because I did the pre-apprenticeship program, I actually am doing it a little bit opposite to what Darci is doing. So what Darci is going to do is Darci is going to work for your field. She's going to get that hands-on experience, and then she's going to go to basic level one. As an electrician, to become an electrician, you need three levels of education.

And so she's going to go for that first level. But, the way I did it is, this pre-apprenticeship program was the basic level one. It was already that first block of school. So I did the schooling before I did the work. So now I'm actually in that work stage and I'm waiting for that second level of schooling and we need to get enough hours to be able to do that.

In the meantime, I'm an apprentice. And so an apprentice means that you're in training. You're like a student and sometimes you're alone. Obviously, you eventually become competent enough to do work by yourself, but there's those really important journeymen. And those are people that are already electricians and have the experience to be able to teach and educate and direct you on the path that you need to go.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Darci, can you talk a little bit more about what you do on a typical day? You started in the field, is that what Shannon was explaining?

Darci Spiteri: Yeah, so I did a pre-apprentice program, which the second career grant paid for, but then, I got in with the union and I started on the job. So I will be going to do my first block of school in 2022. I'll have about, I'll have two years under my belt before I go and do my first block of school. And then a typical day, I think one of the great things about being in a trade is the variety of work. It's never the same depending on what stage of the project you're at, but I think typically starting the day with meeting with the foreman or the journeymen that you're working with to see an overall scope of what your day is going to look like. And like Shannon said, some days you're working by yourself, some days you're working with a journeymen. I started my first job at a school. So I was very lucky because I started at the beginning stages. I was able to see start to finish. And then I was an apprentice, I was doing a lot of running around for the guys that I was working with, but then also having tasks on my own, which was great and doing clean up and keeping everything organized.

But I think it's just, I love that every day is different.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So, Darci, are you saying you could be working at a school one day, you could be working at a big office building skyscraper another day, or then maybe you're in an individual residence a different day?

Darci Spiteri: Yeah. So with the union, I was put on a list, I'd go on the ready-to-work list, and then a company puts in a call that they need apprentices or journeymen. Then you go and you can stay there for two weeks, you could be there, I was there from January to December, so I was able to stay for quite a bit of time. And then when the job's over, then you can go to another, you can bid on another call to go to. So it is very different, and I'm not sure Shannon, but do we have residential people specifically and then we would do commercial? I haven't done any residential.

Shannon Tymosko: At our union hall, from my understanding, you can sign the books and do residential. But what that means is you have to commit one year to residential. You cannot switch back to the commercial work that you're doing. And the pay for residential work is less than the ICI commercial work.

So you're committed to the residential, but there is a sector for us. Yes.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Got it. All right. Interesting. Shannon, can you talk about if there's a shortage of electricians in Canada and is there therefore a lot of demand? And what kind of compensation can people expect if you go through the whole process through the apprenticeship and become an electrician and how long is the apprenticeship part?

Shannon Tymosko: I'm not sure if there's a shortage right now. For example, Darci, she just said she's sitting at home waiting for a job to open up, so if there is a shortage, I don't see it right now. But what I do think is a bigger issue is the fact that we're not passing down knowledge.

So I talked briefly about how it's really hard to find sponsorship, find someone who's going to hire you to be an apprentice, take you on, take on that green person. And, what's really important is that you pass down that knowledge from that experienced, almost ready-to-retire journeymen to that person.

So if there is no overlap between the ready to retire and the young person, then you're going to lose a lot of very valuable knowledge. But right now, is there a shortage? No, because I actually think skilled trades people, they're quite healthy, they're quite fit. They work into their later years and they often take on side jobs and do things in their retirement to keep them busy. I think we're going to see a shortage and I think that's why, especially Canada, I'm not sure about the States, is really trying to get young people engaged and involved in the trades, because we need interested people so that we can pass down knowledge that's going to shortly be lost.

Now, when I talk about compensation, one of the things I really love about the skilled trades is that it's a structured raise process. And so when I was working in customer service or any other job, one year when it comes around and it's raise time. And so they sit you down and they figure out on this chart that you're going to get a 50 cent raise. Yay! Thanks, 3%. That's not a lot, okay.

And as an electrician, as an apprentice you get paid a portion of what the journeyman makes. So let's say for example, your journeymen makes $40. As a first year apprentice, you get 50%. So I would get, I'm an electrician, it's a little bit less, but most trades are 50%, as an electrician at 40%, so it's about minimum wage. But as a second year apprentice, you go from 40% to 50%, as a third-year apprentice, you go from 50% to 60%. Next year your raise is going to be X amount of dollars because it's based on the journeyman's wage at your employer. Now that normally accounts to more than 50 cents.

For example, I just went from first year to second year and it was like a $4.45 raise or something, which I've never seen in my life. So I've gone from minimum wage to now $20 an hour, which is something that I can actually live off of. And so the progression on how much you make is significant. You get a lot more each year, and then overall you can make a lot more. A lot of electricians make anywhere from $60,000 - $100,000 a year. And that really depends on what you want to do. Most of them make on the higher end, obviously there are some situations.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I just want to clarify, you're talking about Canadian dollars.

Shannon Tymosko: Canandian dollars, yeah, I'm not clear on American dollars.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. Just for our audience, I just wanted to clarify that. Okay. Very good. Thank you. Appreciate the details there. Darci, can you please talk about the dangers of the field? And this is I think channeling some of my own fears about working at great heights or getting electrocuted. Are you worried about that? And what are some of the safety precautions that are taken to protect electricians?

Darci Spiteri: One of the reasons that I really wanted to get in with the union was because they're serious about safety. And before I could actually go out onto the job, go on the job list, I had to complete a number of safety trainings. So we had to do working at heights, we had to do first aid. Another one is lockout tagout, which is an important one. But I think the latter situation, like you're talking about heights, I think when I first started going up an eight foot ladder was a little bit nerve wracking, but as you do it more, you get more used to it.

By the end of the job I was on a 12 foot ladder and felt okay. And then we work on scissor lifts, and there's all sorts of safety, like being tied off, and I think just being aware of your surroundings, you have to always like you're on a construction site, there's huge vehicles driving around and you just have to be prepared for everything.

One of my journeymen, he told me, "Trust nobody with your life. If they've told you that the power's off don't trust them, make sure you're checking yourself." And I think just, I trust in my superiors, the people that I'm working with and people on my job site. So I can feel safe when I go to work. It's hard though, when you're doing all these trainings, you spend a day in safety training and seeing all these videos, and I would remember watching, I'm like, “Why am I doing this?” There's so many dangers, but then, once you're aware of it you're more safe on the job, I think.

And it's important to do those trainings, and we have to do, I think, three different levels of training and we can't get our certification unless we've completed those safety trainings.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Got it. And I have to ask you this, just because I'm curious, what is lockout tagout?

Darci Spiteri: So, it's when you're working on, like I would have a lock with my name on it. If I'm working on a certain area in a school and I want to turn the power off, there's actual locks that you would put on and you would only have the key and there would be your name and your phone number. And it just says, “I'm working on this,” and it's illegal to cut the locks on those things. So you can feel safe if you're working in a certain area.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I see. Interesting. Okay. Thank you. Shannon, we talked a little bit about the difference, I'm thinking about do electricians specialize? And we already talked a little bit about residential versus commercial, but just like within commercial are there sub-specialties? Some people sub-specialize on only working on skyscrapers or something and others, some certain kind of, I don't know, electrical wiring and in certain types of buildings, how is that set up?

Shannon Tymosko: I don't know if within commercial specifically there are specialties. I think everybody has their own special skill. Within our team, we have that person that can just bend conduit, who conduits that metal piping, they're just, they're the best. That person over there, they're really good at blank.

And so you just have different strengths amongst your team. But there's definitely different areas of electricity you can go into, hydro, nuclear, solar. When we talked about the residential sector, there's the industrial sector. You don't want to talk about lockout tagout, go to a steel manufacturer and you'll find lockout boxes with 50 locks on them just to make sure everybody's safe, and nobody can turn that power off until everybody's lock is off that.

And then if you want it to be a master electrician, you could own your own company. So you could always take the teacher avenue and teach it when you're at local colleges. And so there's definitely different areas you can specialize in. And amongst electricians, there's different electricians.There's linesman workers, Darci and I are construction and maintenance, there are industrial electricians. And so there's different sectors that you could work in, but it's actually a whole different trade, to be honest. Yeah.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Interesting. Darci, I noticed on your LinkedIn profile you have something referencing a 309A ticket, and I wanted to know what that was and also if you could comment on how long you are an apprentice before becoming a full fledged electrician. And you said there were these three levels, do you have to take an exam and is it a written exam or do you have to demonstrate in the field, certain competencies?

Darci Spiteri: So the 309A ticket is like Shannon said, it's like our construction and maintenance. There's two different tickets you can get. There's the 442, which would be an industrial electrician.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I see.

Darci Spiteri: So with the 309A, it's about 9,000 hours. So you would write a written exam at the end, which is your CFQ, the Certification of Qualification, when you would become an electrician, like a journeyman. You would have the three blocks of school, you have your basic, intermediate and advanced. And that's where you would do more hands-on training or, sorry, not hands-on training, but you would probably have your in-class exams that way. But for your certification, it's going to be a written exam.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And how long does it take from the day one until you graduate to the top level?

Darci Spiteri: Nine thousand hours, so it would be about five years, for Ontario, that's how it works.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Got it. Shannon, I know that you're involved in an organization called KickAss Careers and you're an ambassador for them. And I want to know if you can tell us a little bit about that.

Shannon Tymosko: Absolutely. KickAss Careers is an organization here in Canada that advocates, educates, youth, people, about the skilled trades. So I think it's one of those things in high school that's underrepresented, not talked about enough. Often we're all forced down that college university path into debt where nobody talks about this other avenue where you could take an apprenticeship, where they pay you to go to school. In Canada, your employer pays for your school. In Canada, the government pays you to be off work to go to school for the skilled trades.

They don't do that for any other program. It's an organization that just tries to spread the word and it's got a bunch of different ambassadors. So as an ambassador myself, I'm just an advocate. I just share my story. I'll try to hopefully mentor other people. I just hope one person maybe is inspired to maybe try it themselves because women are underrepresented.

And I think we do have a lot to offer the skilled trades. I often say, “Women hold up half the sky.” You're leaving 50% of your IQ at home when you're not including them in the workplace. We work better together. So that's what KickAss Careers is about.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Great, and Darci, I know you gave us a little description about the second career grant, but I just had an additional question about it. So is it for any second career? And could you get it after a complete career break where you're not working at all for an extended period?

Darci Spiteri: The requirements that I remember when I was applying, you had to have been laid off and then taken a contract position as they say, “to make ends meet.”

Those were the two requirements for this grant, as long as you fell within those two. Then I had to go on EI and show that I was looking for work, and then I was able to look up different careers. So there was a list of jobs that you could do within that. And then with the trades, they had just told me that, so I did a pre-apprentice through a smaller school in Burlington. And one of the things that they told me when I did it was that it wasn't going to count towards my apprenticeship. And I had been out of school for 10 years, so I was welcoming the extra work to refresh my brain. And I had done more art stuff in school, so I had never done any of my physics or my math.

So it was a smack in the face when I went to school to do it. And I just, I'm glad that I'm going to be able to do it again, because now I have that baseline. But with the grant, it paid for my schooling, and then I also paid for childcare and my living expenses. So it was an amazing opportunity to be able to qualify and help me get where I am today.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, it does sound amazing. I don't think we have an equivalent to that in the US offered by the government. So we have to wrap up now and I want to ask both of you the question that we ask all of our podcast guests, and that is what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience, even if it's something that we've already talked about today? Shannon?

Shannon Tymosko: I think it's really important, it's never too late, I touched on it earlier, there's a lot of years of employment ahead of most people. I think it's really important to do what you love, and so just try different things. You never know if you're going to like it, and if you're already on the avenue of wanting to become a tradesperson, just be persistent. Dreams sometimes take time to unfold. Don't give up on that first door that doesn't open because it's really sometimes hard to get into the skilled trades, but once you do, there's just so many doors that open.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Great. Thank you. And Darci?

Darci Spiteri: I think along the same lines of what Shannon is saying is, just don't give up. I did do my pre-apprentice and it was hard for me and I almost did give up, but I had someone in my life who pushed me and told me that I could do it. And just working hard to go through the steps, because as Shannon said, it is sometimes hard to get into the trades, but I think people don't always look at your test scores. We had to do an aptitude test, and I think they also look at your personality and how you interact with everyone. And I think that's important to not get discouraged if you don't think you can do something.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. Great advice from both of you and we really appreciate it. I know our audience will. And thank you for joining us today. Shannon and Darci.

Darci Spiteri: Thank you for having us.

Shannon Tymosko: Thank you so much for having us. I appreciate being here with both of you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, me too. And thanks for listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information on iRelaunch conferences and events to sign up for our job board and access our return to work tools and resources, go to

And if you liked this podcast, be sure to rate it on Apple podcasts and your favorite podcast platform, and be sure to share this podcast with a friend on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media. Thanks for joining us.

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