38-year-old Chula Vista resident Jeniffer Mendiola has had a passion for working with her hands from an early age, influenced by her uncles working in construction. The passion is made clear when looking at her work history, which reflects a pattern of physical if not mobile elements; from emergency medical technician (EMT) to welding and driving for Uber, her career journey took her through various career paths and industries. It was when she received an email from San Diego Continuing Education that she was able to find her way to becoming a certified electrician by way of the San Diego Workforce Partnership’s Construction Career Jumpstart (CCJ) program. Below, Jeniffer tells us about her experience in the program and how she feels about being among the few female apprentices.
I was working as an EMT when I suffered a knee injury that left me unable to continue due to the physical nature of the work. After healing somewhat, I transitioned into welding, spending two years in an environment that not only caused me physical pain but was also plagued by toxic masculinity. It was during this period that I met an electrician while on a job who told me about his experience being a part of a union, but how the process of joining one was still unclear to me, so I pushed it to the back of my mind. The unhealthy atmosphere among the male welders pushed me to leave and try my hand at Uber for a while. In 2020, I decided to return to San Diego and went back to working for the ambulance company, this time as a stock person, but I soon realized that it wasn’t a sustainable path with its $15-an-hour wage and provided no prospects of advancement.
While it was comforting to be part of a familiar team, I knew that there was no room for growth in that position. My turning point came when I received an email from San Diego Continuing Education, introducing me to the possibilities within the union and apprenticeship programs. Hearing about the positive and supportive culture of unions sparked my interest and led me to discover the Electrical Training Institute (ETI) and the CCJ pre-apprenticeship program. The CCJ program opened up a world of possibilities and exposed me to various aspects of the electrical trade. The training involved a lot of time standing and lifting heavy machinery, and I was nervous about whether I would have the stamina needed to get the job done. Despite my concerns about my physical condition after being sedentary working as a driver, I quickly discovered that I could keep up with the instructor and the others in my cohort, which gave me the confidence boost I needed to preserve.
Even with my newfound confidence and passion for the work, it didn’t make the commitment any easier. The program requires hours of technical learning and theory, and I also remained working full-time at the ambulance company. The instructor, Garrett Camp, made the four-week program much easier to grasp and provided an encouraging environment that I heard existed in unions. He provided us with valuable insights and support that I am incredibly thankful for. The CCJ’s program resources, such as the interview preparation and resume-building support, were invaluable in ensuring my success. I felt prepared to enter the next phase of my journey, which was enrolling in the Electrical Training Institute (ETI) Apprenticeship program.
To my surprise, getting into the was quicker than I had anticipated. I applied during my last week of pre-apprentice training, but I thought it would take a couple of years before I would become an apprentice. However, ETI accepted me into their program the same day I interviewed, which I attribute to the thoroughness of the pre-apprentice training. I am currently in my second year of apprenticeship with three more years to go. Even though the commitment is as intense as ever, with taking classes twice a week while also working full-time for the work experience, the increased income makes it all worthwhile. I receive a salary increases every six months, and am making more money than ever. Being in a union is a game-changer. They offer so many different development opportunities that I can pursue after I complete my apprenticeship, which leaves the future open and bright. It’s an exciting journey, and I’m thrilled to see where it takes me.
The environment within the apprenticeship program is different from any I’ve experienced before. It is welcoming, and negative work attitudes are not tolerated. I am hopeful that more women will break into traditionally male-dominated fields, and I am passionate about encouraging them to do so. The key is not holding yourself back and overcoming the mental barriers that might make you doubt your abilities. More women should explore opportunities in the trades, and I hope my story can inspire them to pursue their passions. In my class at CCJ, there were only four women, and I am currently the only woman in my current class. It’s essential to create a welcoming environment that makes it possible for more women to feel accepted in the space. As I continue this journey, I want to be a beacon of inspiration for other women, showing them that the environment is changing and they, too, can succeed in the trades.