The ESB apprentice: ‘I need to start a career... So here I am’

Some raise eyebrows when Hannah Shortt tells them she’s an apprentice electrician, but reaction is generally positive

Hannah Shortt, ESB Apprentice Electrician at the Young Women in Apprenticeships event in DIT: ‘I’m not treated any differently, there’s equality across the board.’ Photograph: Conor Mulhern

Hannah Shortt, ESB Apprentice Electrician at the Young Women in Apprenticeships event in DIT: ‘I’m not treated any differently, there’s equality across the board.’ Photograph: Conor Mulhern

 

Having made two unsuccessful attempts at studying for a degree, Hannah Shortt had a brainwave about her future while handling an application form for a male friend.

The 26-year-old from Bray, Co Wicklow, had dropped out of courses in science, and advertising and marketing, and was working in a supermarket.

However, she realised the idea of doing some “hands-on practical work” appealed. So, “for the craic” she submitted an application to the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) apprenticeship programme in 2015.

“I was actually putting in an application for a friend of mine. He was interested in it; I then saw an ad running for it which included a girl and thought, I never considered that as an option for women,” she said.

“I was stuck in a job in a supermarket and I was thinking, I need to get out; I need to start a career. So I just put the application in for the craic and I got it, so here I am.”

Ms Shortt, who is just over a year off qualification, said she hoped to work specifically on underground cables.

The careers teachers won’t let us come in, they don’t want to know about apprenticeships

“You’re working in dirty, mucky holes in the ground but you’re covered in raingear head to toe so it’s not too bad,” she said.

“Underground cables is interesting work: it’s quite technical and really hands on. It’s really popular at the moment.”

Open day

She was speaking at a recent apprenticeship open day, specifically for young women, held at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). The college sought applications from women for its pre-apprenticeship scheme, which to date has had no female entrants since being established last year.

Joe Teehan, co-ordinator of the 12-week pilot programme, said “We can’t get into the female schools to speak about apprenticeships.

“The careers teachers won’t let us come in, they don’t want to know about apprenticeships. They won’t recognise an apprenticeship as an invaluable job for a young person.”

Ms Shortt said she was among 10 female apprentices working in the ESB along with 14 qualified electricians. She said while there have been some raised eyebrows when she tells people of her profession, the reaction is generally positive.

“A lot of people are surprised and say ‘You’re an electrician, what?’ It’s not expected, you don’t see many women in it,” she said.

Still you won’t see a female carpenter in a kids’ schoolbook or a female plumber; you’ll see a male one

“Others say, ‘Jeez, it’s great to see a woman’; ‘How are you finding it?’ and ‘Best of luck’. My message for young girls would be, Don’t be nervous, don’t be afraid. I’m not treated any differently, there’s equality across the board.

“The men don’t treat you any differently to how they treat each other. It’s a great job and I would highly recommend it.”

Low numbers

Jennifer Byrne, a lecturer in the construction department in DIT, said the number of young women in courses such as wood manufacturer finishing and timber product technology remains low.

“It’s disappointing because girls are great in the class and it creates good competition. They raise the bar,” she said.

“I think a lot of it is to do with perception. Even if you look at kids’ schoolbooks, and it’s changing a little, but still you won’t see a female carpenter in a kids’ schoolbook or a female plumber; you’ll see a male one.

“When I first became qualified as a cabinet maker in 1994 and turned up to fit someone’s kitchen with the company I was with, you got the odd remark like ‘Oh are you here to make the tea?’. You would get a few remarks like that but then it became more accepted.”