THERE’S NO CRYING IN CONSTRUCTION!
Miller Electric Low Voltage Tech Sophia Graves Talks About Life and Work in the Commercial Electrical Construction Industry
Five years ago, Sophia Graves finished up another day of work as an IT technician, keenly aware that she no longer enjoyed what she was doing. Her fiancé, who was an electrician, encouraged her to head to the Union Hall and fill out an apprentice application.
“I thought, ‘what do I have to lose?,’” Graves recalls. Six weeks and some high test scores later, she found herself seated in front of 11 contractors, interviewing to become an apprentice. When she wasn’t selected, Graves thought the door had closed on a career in the electrical industry. A year later, Miller Electric came calling.
“I learned of my assignment at Miller Electric and was ecstatic,” she says. “Seeing the picture of the men smiling on their website did it for me. They say a picture paints a thousand words and they looked like they were having fun. I thought, ‘I’m going to be in good hands.’”
The “Data Guys” of the Electrical Industry
Graves began her career with Miller Electric as a low voltage technician. When people ask her today what she does and whether or not they’d be good at it, she asks if they are good with their hands, enjoy using tools and like learning new things, all of which are qualities she says are essential to doing low voltage work.
“A lot of people call us the data guys of the electrical industry. We do a lot with computers and phones, so people can communicate with everyone quickly. We pull cable for computers and access control, and we pull fiber over longer distances so buildings can be connected to each other and the people working within them can transfer data at the speed of light.
“For the most part, we make cable look beautiful and try not to interrupt anyone else’s work. When young women, or anyone really, ask me if they could do what I do, I tell them you never know what you are capable of until you try.”
Today, when Graves is out and about, she often finds herself looking not just straight ahead and around, but up.
“I look at ceilings everywhere I go, critiquing everyone’s work. Sometimes I see exposed wires or other things that shouldn’t be done. I guess it’s part of our ‘Millerisms;’ like everybody else here, I’m always thinking about what I can do better to provide the very best work possible, on each and every job.”
On the Job Learning Propels Graves Into the Service Department
A thirst for learning and trying new things led Graves to explore her options within Miller Electric outside of the Low Voltage department. Now, she is driving a service truck, which she not only loves, but would love to see more women doing.
“There are more young women exploring the field of electrical contracting and I would love to see some of them run service trucks. Especially if you tend to be detail-oriented, this can be a very rewarding field.”
Like any field, electrical construction work isn’t without challenges. It can be a learning experience for people who tend to show their emotions more than others.
“Sometimes the job gets to you and it can get a little overwhelming, but you can’t show it,” says Graves. “You have to stay tough. Men and women alike have to work through the same challenges. If you start crying about it, your co-workers may be like, ‘What? You’re crying? There’s no crying in construction.’ But overall, people are supportive and caring and as long as you show you are committed to doing the job right and getting better, they’ll have your back.”
Graves’ Word to Women Considering a Career in Electrical Contracting
Making mistakes and growing on the job is part of the trade, for anyone joining it. Graves encourages women not to shy away from a career in the trades. For those entering the electrical field, she says pushing yourself to get a little better every day is essential.
“Be yourself, learn the job and keep moving forward. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you’re a woman or because you’re small, if you are. Even the tiniest person in a room has an advantage because they can access tight spaces that others can’t.”
More Moves on the Horizon
Graves may have started in low voltage work and moved into service, but she doesn’t plan to stay there. Someday, she’d like to move into project management.
“I’d like to work in the office and become a support to other service drivers and low voltage technicians as a project manager. Maybe I can help guide them along in the right direction. That was definitely done for me by my fellow low voltage techs. Without them, I wouldn’t have the confidence I do now as a service driver. And besides, like I often tell my children, you don’t know what you are capable of until you try.”
Beyond the electrical industry, Graves’ goal is to one day own her own restaurant. A graduate of the Arts Institute of Colorado and former chef for the NFL franchise Denver Broncos, Graves holds a degree in Culinary Arts and Management and has long had aspirations to open her own shop.
“When I open my restaurant, I’m going to trust Miller Electric to help with the construction work,” Graves says, laughing. “I can count on two fingers the jobs I’ve loved. One of them was working as a personal chef for the Denver Broncos and the other is Miller Electric. Every time I work around a new person here, it’s like I’ve known them forever. We’re like a big extended family and I’m extremely grateful to be here.
“I never knew how much fun I would have until I started doing this. There is something new I learn every day, which makes every day interesting. I absolutely love coming to work.”