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G I R L S A&A Y O U N GA W O M E N

Ms. Fixit Keeps 'Em Talking
Excerpt from It's A Living! Career News for Girls

by Ceel Publishing

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Verelett Allen

"Don’t give up on your dreams. Always seek out a mentor, someone who will help show you the way." For 16 years Verelett Allen has worked as a radio technician at Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro), the Washington, D.C.-area public transportation company. She installs and repairs two-way radios on buses, in police cars, and in subway tunnels. Verelett is the only woman ever to hold this job at Metro.

"I always liked taking things apart and putting them back together," she says. "And I like fixing things." But the most satisfying part of her job at Metro is the pay rate. "It’s the most money I’ve ever made in my life. It’s allowed me to put three daughters through school and pay for one wedding." Verelett is now a grandmother.

Many of the men at Metro are a little cool to Verelett, but she does have a friend who helped her learn the ropes. "I don’t let the men bother me. I know I’m good at what I do."

Verelett grew up in Washington, D.C. She spent three years in Germany with her family when her father was stationed there, and she remembers getting a pink transistor radio as a present from her grandfather. "I took it apart. I had to see how it worked."

When she returned to Washington at the age of 12, Verelett’s life changed. Her grandfather, who was a strong force in her life, died. Her parents divorced. She lived with her mother, but her mother was busy trying to make her own life work and had little time for Verelett. "I had complete freedom; I could do anything I wanted."

She almost dropped out of school. "I quit going to classes, but I stayed connected with my old friends." A girlfriend, a homeroom teacher, and her mother convinced Verlette to go back and get her high school diploma. "Senior year was fun," she says. After graduation, Verelett, who says she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, had three children - one each year the first three years after high school. The father of her children was already married, so Verelett had to raise them on her own.

Verelett took many jobs. She worked in a cup factory, she drove a city bus, she coordinated fashion shows for foreign diplomats, she worked as a waitress, and she cleaned offices. Eventually, she found a job as an intern at a television station, where she learned film editing.

But she wasn’t making enough money to support her and her children. So Verelett’s mother took two of her kids and the youngest went to stay with a cousin while Verelett followed her friend who had found a job in radio in California. Verelett found a job selling advertising for radio stations. But she missed her kids, and after six months, she headed home.

Verlette got her kids back and took welfare payments as she worked different jobs. She was determined to get back into TV or radio, but the rules on who could edit had changed—she needed more training and a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Verelett worked putting undercoating on cars and cleaning offices and planned to get her FCC license. During the next five years, she took electronic courses in her "spare" time. Once she had the license, she found that Metro paid better than broadcasting and that her license was the type the company required for the work of radio technician. So she applied to Metro every week, until the company finally called her for an interview.

Verelett thought she had the job. She passed the test, she passed the physical, and the Metro representative told her to report to work. But when she showed up at Metro, she learned that she didn’t have the practical experience to get the job. The company didn’t believe she could do the work that only men had done before. A counselor at Metro suggested she enroll in Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW), a program to help women find these types of "nontraditional" jobs, usually held only by men. After graduating from WOW’s electronics program in 1981, Verelett finally landed the job at Metro.

These days, Verelett starts her day at 7 a.m. and gets home about midnight. During the first part of the day, she goes to her job at the National Capital Area YWCA. There she runs a program to teach women who want nontraditional jobs how to get ready for training. She tells these women what to expect from apprenticeships and internships, what the work world is really like, and how to succeed in jobs where they will be working mostly with men. Then at 3 p.m. Verlette starts her Metro job, where she works until 11:30 p.m.

One Monday a month, Verelett runs a support group for women who are working in nontraditional jobs. The members of the group talk about any problems they are having and try to help each other to stay in the jobs. Verelett loves both her jobs—fixing things at Metro and teaching women at the YWCA. She has become so well known throughout the United States for her work in helping women get jobs that she’s been to the White House and met President and Mrs. Clinton.

CAREER TRACK

Gets pink transistor radio/ Graduates high school/ Has 3 daughters/ Works fashion shows & TV station/ Studies for FCC license & works undercoating cars/ Gets radio technician job/ Teaches at YWCA/ Honored at White House

YOU'D LIKE THIS JOB IF YOU

  • Like to take equipment apart to see how it works & fix it.
  • Like to solve puzzles and problems.
  • Are interested in studying electronics and devices such as VCRs and radios.
  • Can ignore putdowns by others because you will work hard and be confident in what you do.

SALARY RANGE

Apprentice wages $4.25 to $22 per hr (plus benefits) Source: Ferguson’s Guide to Apprenticeship Programs.

STATISTICS

  • In the field Electronic Engineer Technician positions--women held 20.5%
  • In Cable TV technician positions--women held 5.3%
    Source: Federal Communications Commission.

Excerpted from It's a Living! Career News for Girls

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