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An untapped resource

Part of the solution to the construction industry’s labour shortage may be supporting women in the trades



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MaryAnn Hanstke is an electrician in her early 40s, who has been working at the trade for 12 years. At 130 pounds and 5’8”, Hanstke says the more physically demanding aspects of the job require her to use her body wisely and ask for help if she needs it. “Any physically fit woman could do this job,” says Hanstke firmly. “The main thing is that you are organized. On a job site, that is critical.”

To Hanstke, the job security and salary are very important aspects of her trade. “I know I can go anywhere in the world, and still get work. I won’t have to start at the bottom of the heap.” A union ticketed electrician makes $41 an hour. The non-union rate is $30 an hour. “Those are just not the kind of wages you earn in clerical work,” she says. “I know I am going to be financially secure, no matter what.”

Hanstke says the worst part of the job is “when its minus-17 and the wind is blowing and you can’t just say ‘No, I don’t want to work outside today.’ That’s when you earn your pay. But I can laugh about it afterwards.”

When asked about the atmosphere on the job site, Hanstke says the vast majority of people she works with are “fantastic.”

“When I was working in the Lower Mainland, there were some workers on the job site who were just very uneducated men,” she remembers. “I put my headphones on at the start of the day, until I was done, so I wouldn’t have to listen to what they were saying.”

She insists that job sites in Whistler are different. “If I started here and then went somewhere else I don’t know if it would have been the same for me.”

Like any job, the electrical trade has its ups and downs. Renovations are a part of the job that Hanstke could do without. “Renos can be really dirty — when you are ripping out old asbestos-laden insulation, full of mould and mildew. It can be disgusting.”

What would Hanstke say to young women in high school contemplating career options? “The challenge is phenomenal. Not everyone is cut out to be an academic. And the money is good.”

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