Growing up on a farm in northern Trumbull County taught Karisten Blackshere about hard work and being hands-on. Now, in her first year in the electrician apprenticeship at the Warren JATC, she understands early mornings, sacrifices and persistence.
However, it took thousands of miles and several life experiences to get there.
Venture to Las Vegas
Karisten’s had various jobs since graduating high school, but never felt settled on any of them.
“My aunt in Las Vegas saw how I needed a new start. She told me to go out there and explore. What did I have to lose? Nothing was keeping me from going at the time,” she said.
In 2022, she left Bloomfield Township and headed to Las Vegas. After a few months, she still hadn’t found the right career choice. That’s when her aunt, who’s a pipefitter/plumber, encouraged her to consider the trades.
“I wanted something that would last a lifetime. She’s the first woman in the trades that I knew.”
Karisten has other hands-on job influences, too. Her uncle is a mason, and her dad works for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT).
The leap into electrician apprenticeship
“I was most nervous about the math. I went on a whim thinking I wouldn’t get accepted. Then, they called and told me I got in!”
One project she worked on was the new Sphere – a music and entertainment arena that opened at the end of September 2023.
“I came in toward the end of that job, but I did do some of the groundwork and got experience there,” she said.
The other was the Gemini project – a solar and energy field outside of Las Vegas.
A restart back home
Her plans to remain in Las Vegas changed after her dad was in a bad accident back home. He suffered some serious injuries, and Karisten felt it was best to be closer to him. Despite the move, she wasn’t giving up on her electrical career.
“I started the process to transfer everything to Local 573 in Warren. Thankfully, it all went smoothly.”
She says the days get long, but she likes the experience she’s getting. Karisten is also juggling a busy home life.
“I have temporary custody of my four-year-old cousin. It’s a lot, but I’m trying so hard.”
She attends class twice a week at the Warren JATC, and sometimes her cousin accompanies her until another caregiver picks her up.
“The JATC has been really understanding with my situation.”
Training Director Eric Davis said Karisten shows a lot of promise.
“She’s doing great and works hard. We don’t have any problems with her,” Davis said.
Life’s challenges aren’t keeping Karisten from trying to reach her goals.
“It’s now or never. I’m glad I got in the apprenticeship when I did.”
A lifelong career for anyone
As a woman in the trade, she encourages others to take the leap and not be intimidated.
“If you have the mindset to do this, just go for it. That’s what I did. Take the risk,” she said. “There’s so much you can do. You have a lifetime pension, good pay and benefits, you’re never out of work, and you can travel the world if you want.”
Karisten is excited to know her career will follow her wherever she goes.
“If I can get to every state and work, I will! I want to do something I love while I travel.”
Another part she loves about becoming an electrician is having no college debt.
“I go to school, but I don’t have to pay all that money to learn a great skill.”
When she was in Las Vegas, Karisten felt a strong sense of support from other female electricians. She knew at least 20 others in the trade.
“It can be tough fighting the stigmas. I just keep showing I can handle some of the things that men think I can’t.”
Aside from breaking barriers, the other parts of the job she enjoys include networking and learning from journeymen.
“I’ll be teaching an apprentice one day. Everything I’m learning, I’ll get to pass down.”
Karisten says it’s a lifetime skill that’s earned – and is something she can carry with her to live a life she’s always wanted.
NECA-IBEW Electricians makes up a highly trained and available union workforce in the area. It’s an association of IBEW Local 64 in Youngstown, IBEW Local 573 in Warren and signatory electrical contractors throughout the Mahoning Valley.