Raechel Kula’s career path has taken some interesting turns. After several years in software testing, she went back to school for theatre training. But steady work in the entertainment industry is hard to come by, and she liked the idea of a job with more regular hours.
An encounter with some electricians sparked her interest in that trade. That led her to enrol in the electrician and network cabling program at Herzing College.
After graduating in September 2022, she immediately went to work full time at a small company in Toronto that installs lighting, communications, and audio-video systems in commercial and high-end residential properties.
We spoke with Raechel to learn more about her experience at Herzing and how her career has unfolded. Here’s her story.
Q. Raechel, can you tell us a bit about yourself? What were you doing before Herzing?
Raechel: I have a bit of an odd background. I actually started in IT back in the late 90s and did automated software testing for about 10 or 15 years. Then I gave that up and decided to go back to theatre school. I wound up with a degree in Devised Theatre and Computational Arts and Technology from York University.
Unfortunately for me, the combination of a divorce and the pandemic made it a really bad time to get into freelance live performance work.
But while I was doing that, I worked a large digital art installation at The Bentway. It was an installation of about 3,000 lights that were controlled by computers under the Gardiner Expressway. I was on the artist side, but the venue and the city had some electricians on site managing other parts of it. I wound up working with them as a liaison, so I chatted with them about what they were doing.
They said they were low-voltage electricians. I asked how one becomes a low-voltage electrician. They said it’s a few months in trade school.
I thought, well, I could do that! I looked it up and Herzing had an electrician and network cabling program starting the next month, so I enrolled.
Q. Why Herzing specifically?
Raechel: The location was great for me. The school is located less than a 10-minute drive from my house. I was still finishing up my master’s degree at York at the time, and Herzing is literally halfway between York and my house. So the location couldn’t have been better.
Plus, they had enough programs running with enough different schedules that I was able to have something that worked for me. I wound up taking the afternoon weekday classes.
Q. How would you describe the overall training experience? What was the general vibe in class?
Raechel: The material is really well done, so if you read the books and pay attention and make use of the instructor and the materials and the tools that you have, you will learn. It’s really nice to be able to practise new skills in a controlled environment.
The classes have people from all walks of life. There are a lot who come from foreign countries who kind of know what they’re doing, but not how it’s done in Canada. There are also kids coming straight out of high school. And there are people like me who did something else and are looking for a different type of employment.
Q. How were the instructors?
Raechel: The instructors were great. I remember how Don DeLuca, the network cabling instructor, was really good about ergonomics. The BIX punch was the one that he would fuss at us about. He’d show us that you can do it with your wrist bent, but you’ll hurt yourself over time. It’s not that you’ll hurt the cable; you’ll hurt yourself. But if you have the tool aligned and you get behind it properly, you don’t injure your body. And then you can last 15 or 20 years in your career.
The instructors were also great connections for me. As soon as I finished the network cabling portion, Don would occasionally take me to work with him on jobs. And even before I finished the electrical class, the instructor, Lakeram Ramkaran, asked me to help him as a teaching assistant.
Q. You got hired even before you finished your training! Tell us about that.
Raechel: My IT background gave me networking from the IT manager’s perspective, and the work that I did in theatre gave me audio and visual systems in an industrial live performance sort of venue. I also have project management and team lead experience in both industries. With all of that in addition to the training I got from Herzing, I was able to convince my current employer I would be a good addition to their team.
I’m working at Intelligent Sound and Vision. This week I’m pulling cable at a large car dealership. But they’ve also had me co-leading a site for a $25-million private home where we have pulled over 600 cables! And new sites are coming up all the time.
I love my crew and have really great relationships with them. It’s a small shop, and the technicians all get along and have a fun time on the job while we’re getting things done. And it’s interesting work dealing with top-of-the-line devices in high-end settings.
The activity has been great for both my physical and mental health—I don’t have to go to the gym because we work hard all day. It’s really nice, at 46, to say that I’m in the best shape of my life!
Q. Were there many other women in your training program?
Raechel: No, there weren’t, though I know the school is great about encouraging women and even runs special classes sometimes.
There was one other woman who was taking the electrical course at the same time as I was taking the network cabling course, so we weren’t in the same class.
The first term that I was a teaching assistant, there was a woman in the HVAC program, so every once in a while she and I would chat about things like how to keep your hair protected on the job. I have very long hair, so dealing with that is a bit different.
Q. What’s it like being a woman in this trade?
Raechel: Honestly, in the year that I’ve been working, I have yet to meet another woman on the job. So it’s a little lonely in that sense. There just aren’t many women around yet. The only place I’ve seen them is in insulation.
I have had people assume I’m with the insulation crew or with the painters. I’ve had people call me “sweetie” and “honey” and things like that. And I don’t mind, but my boss will yell at them and say, “Don’t say that. She’s one of the guys!” So that’s kind of funny.
I’m a woman and I can do the job. If somebody wants to pick something up for me because they think it’s too heavy for me, I’ll tell them I can do it. If they let me, I grab it and it’s not a problem. And if they insist, I say, “Fine, you want to work harder? You go for it.”
I am smaller than the other guys, so for things that require a really high reach, the taller people on the team do that. But I can fit into smaller spaces, so I’m the one in the crawl space and up in the attic. If there’s a small hole, it’s my hands that go in.
Really, every crew works that way, because human beings have different physical characteristics and that’s what determines who’s best at doing each job. My crew doesn’t treat me any differently just because I’m a woman.
Q. What would you say are the most important skills you need to succeed in this trade?
Raechel: There’s the obvious stuff like understanding how the systems that you’re installing work and reading drawings and things like that. But work ethic is also key: showing up on time, with your tools, ready to work. Plus, you need to be able to communicate with your colleagues and your supervisors and your clients.
Physical and mental stamina are also required. The days are hard, and sometimes things don’t go well, and you have to have the mental and physical strength to push through that and either get the job done or be aware enough to put your hand up and say something when it’s too much.
Q. What advice would you give someone who was thinking about going into the electrical and network cabling field?
Raechel: You have to approach the training with the mindset of making the most of it. This is your chance to play with things and figure them out in a controlled environment with people who care about you and are there to help you learn it. Ideally, that’s also going to be true on the job, but on the job there’s that extra pressure to get it right and do it in a timely manner.
You also need to be willing to work to your limit, but recognize where your limit is. If something doesn’t feel safe or if you’re not comfortable doing something, put your hand up and get the training or the assistance that you need to be able to do your work in a way that’s safe and correct.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ELECTRICIAN AND NETWORK CABLING TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM
Herzing’s combined electrical and network cabling program takes just 42 weeks to complete and is available in both Toronto and Cambridge. Students learn how to install and repair electrical systems and how to install and test cable for data and voice connections. It’s two trades in one program, giving grads double the job opportunities.
Click below to get more details on the combined program and chat live with an admissions advisor. We’re here to help!