Montana’s 22-member Independent Electrical Contractor (IEC) class of 2021 graduated last Friday in Bozeman, joining hundreds of IEC apprentices graduating between now and early July nationwide.

IEC’s 2021 President Janet Martin was in Bozeman to address the Montana’s graduates and spread the word about the industry to other young people looking for a good-paying career and job security.

Martin is one of the first women in the U.S. to head a male-dominated industry trade association. In an interview with the Belgrade News last week, she touted the benefits of the IEC program, which prepares students — including women — for careers in the electrical contractor sector.

“College isn’t for everyone, and when you do go to college, what happens when you graduate? You have a great big, huge bill to pay off,” she said. “The IEC apprenticeship program is one day a week – you graduate with a job and don’t have any debt.”

IEC graduates begin the program as apprentices and spend four years gaining experience and earning a healthy paycheck while pursuing their schooling.

“At the end of four years, they would have earned 8,000 hours by working in the field,” she said. “They are ready for testing out as a journeyman.”

The IEC Montana Chapter fourth-year apprentice graduates are from Bozeman, Billings, Great Falls and Missoula. The IEC campuses in those cities train 72 percent of all of Montana’s electrical apprentices.

Martin noted that those apprenticeships lead to secure careers for many, including returning military vets, women, and underserved populations.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic has cost 5.4 million women their jobs, and she encouraged them to consider entering a trade where they can earn high wages and enjoy strong job security.

“Starting a career as an electrician would be a great career for women,” she said. “It provides a great livelihood for families, wages are higher, and (workers) are in demand.

“I would encourage any woman out there to think about being an electrician,” she said.

Martin said women who enter the field can fill myriad niches within the industry – everything from the hands-on wiring and fixture assembly tasks to office work and personnel and financial management.

“They can be project foremen, managers, estimators. They can specialize in fire alarms. There are so many avenues in the electrical industry, they’ll never get bored.”

Martine added that electricians were considered essential employees during the pandemic and were able to continue working throughout.

“You have a skill that will take you forever – no age limits, no discrimination, no boundaries,” she said. “A lot of women out there that do have their own electrical contracting businesses.”