Two sister pairs charge into electrician field at GCU

From left, sisters Jasmin and Clarisa Garcia, and sisters Lisette and Janet Amaya are enrolled in GCU’s Pre-Apprenticeship for Electricians program.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Sisterhood is lit at Grand Canyon University.

This fall, two pairs of sisters joined the Pre-Apprenticeship for Electricians pathway. Sisters Janet Amaya, 20, and Lisette Amaya, 19, and sisters Clarisa Garcia, 27, and Jasmin Garcia, 19, completed the 15-week cohort that prepares participants to enter apprenticeships and become electricians.

It’s a male-dominated field with only 2% females, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. It’s even rarer to have sisters side by side cutting conduit. But not this fall at GCU.

“We are pretty close because we are the closest in age in our family,” said Lisette, who joined a cohort of 100, many who expect to receive their certificates of completion at tonight's Night of Celebration ceremony in GCU Arena. “My mom wasn’t surprised. We used to work together at Five Guys.”

When another sister, Celine Aguirre, who is an admissions counselor at GCU, told Lisette about the pathway, she figured it was a great way to get out of her comfort zone and try something new. She immediately told sister Janet, who was had been enrolled in a dental assistant program.

“They only pay like $15. It’s insane,” Janet said. “It wasn’t financially stable. And I want to get my own apartment.”

Lisette Amaya listens as her sister Janet talks about why the they enrolled in GCU’s Pre-Apprenticeship for Electricians program.

The sisters, who live with their parents, said it’s exciting to enter a field where co-workers look beyond their gender.

“They don’t see that anymore, because that’s not all who you are. You’ve got skills, just like anybody else,” said Janet, who earlier in the semester felt comfortable during a field trip to Corbins, an electrical contractor in Phoenix that is one of the program’s sponsors. “A guy there told me I didn’t need to worry about it being a male-dominated field. He said, ‘Whatever, you are just another brother.’”

GCU has attracted a relatively large percentage of women to its pathway through its first three cohorts. This fall, 10% of participants were female, and the prior cohorts were 8% and 10%.

“That barrier has been removed that it’s a man’s job,” said Shelly Seitz, program manager of GCU’s Center for Workforce Development, which also includes the CNC Machinists Pathway. “It’s not so much traditional roles now, and more women are embracing their skills.”

Sisters Clarisa (left) and Jasmin Garcia listen intently during a recent Pre-Apprenticeship for Electricians program class.

For the Garcia sisters of Avondale, it was a chance to bond.

“I thought it would be cool to go to school with my sister,” Jasmin said. “We could go to class together and spent time together.”

Sister Clarisa is married and has a 1-year-old child but didn’t hesitate to tell her younger sister about the program when she arrived in the fall and was told there was another opening in the pathway.

They now can compare notes and help each other out, away from the jobs they both held doing cleaning work.

Shelly Seitz

“I’m interested in a career where I can maintain my child,” Clarisa said. “I’ve seen my dad work as an electrician for 30 years, and he has everything he needs, so I wanted to do the same for my family.”

She says the changes in the industry, where workers can  make $50,000-$60,000 and earn $70,000-$80,000 further along in their career, are welcome.

“Before they just wanted you in the office, they didn’t want you in the field,” she said. “I’d ask my dad about a job, and he just said we can put you somewhere in the office. I didn’t want to do that. And he’s OK with it now.”

Lisette Amaya got to use tools in a field trip to sponsor Rosendin Electric.

In classes that cover orientation to the electricians field, English, math and electrical foundations, and include industry field trips, they learned the negative connotations of the job for females are false.

“It’s crazy because you think that construction is heavy lifting and intense labor but then you go to a site and they show you these high-tech tools that are under 50 pounds,” Janet said. “It’s not like, oh, I can’t do it because I am a girl.”

She lifts more weight lugging cases of water in her job at Sam’s Club, she said.  

The Buckeye sisters relished using the saws to cut conduit and the hammer drills.

“I’ve never touched a saw before that,” Janet said. “(Sponsor) Milwaukee Tool has some crazy tools that are super light.”

Both sets of sisters have applied for apprenticeships and plan to stay in Arizona.

“Why would you want to move? This is a hotspot. It’s where the jobs are at. Where I live I see new apartments going up every day,” Janet said.

The Pre-Apprenticeship for Electricians pathway joins the CNS Machinists Pathway's first 20 participants as Center for Workforce Development pathways that are filling labor gaps in a growing metro Phoenix area.

Those who complete the pathway go on to apprenticeships, typically with one of the four program sponsors, including Rosendin Electric, which helped launch it last year. Enrollment is growing younger each cohort as it is becoming known in area high schools, the typical participant being young Hispanic men, Seitz said.

Clarisa Garcia, along with sister Jasmin, are following their father into the field.

“But we are attracting more women. Females are desired because women are multitaskers and more detail oriented by nature, so those are good qualities in that profession,” she said.

Janet smiled as she added, “We also have a better work ethic. And we’re cleaner.”

But don’t think for a minute that doesn’t mean they aren’t competitive, especially as sisters.

When asked who is doing better in class, neither Amaya sister missed one beat.

“Me,” they said, simultaneously.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

Related content:

GCU News: Future electricians celebrate completing GCU program

GCU Magazine: How GCU helps students access education

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