Kathryn Young never shies away from a challenge.
Young is the first woman to complete the apprenticeship training and pass the Certificate of Qualification exam for Sprinkler and Fire Protection Installer in Ontario.
While she is not the first woman in the province to hold certification in the sprinkler trade, Young said she is proud of her achievements and getting her journeyperson status. She currently works for Prime Fire Protection in Oakville, Ont., installing sprinkler pipe on commercial buildings such as highrises and hospitals.
"Definitely the physical aspect of that is challenging but that is also what I love about it," said Young. "I would much rather be doing the heavy lifting than any lighter type work."
Due to the physical demands, the majority of the workers in the sprinkler trade are men, she noted.
"Realistically anyone can do it," said Young, adding she may not be able to lift a six-inch pipe on her own, but neither can some of the men in the trade. "I feel almost guilty giving myself this recognition because thousands of guys have done this for years and done the exact same work that I am doing. They deserve just as much recognition."
Years ago, Young worked as a landscaper with a friend, which is where she developed a passion for physical work.
"I knew I liked the physical aspect. At that point I knew I probably didn’t want to be in an office but I wasn’t 100 per cent," she explained. "Then my mom mentioned to me the Women in Skilled Trades course at Conestoga College which really got my foot in the door in terms of tools. That point is when I knew I wanted to get into the trades for sure."
Before she pursued sprinkler fitting she did a carpentry apprenticeship through the college program.
"It ended up being mostly concrete work and it wasn’t really my thing," said Young, adding she started asking people in different trades about their salary, hours, pension and benefits. "I knew I wanted to be in the trades at that point but I wasn’t sure what trade, so I spoke to one of the guys that worked in the (sprinkler) trade at the time and it sounded promising."
She started asking some of her carpentry co-workers if they thought she would be able to do it.
"The common answer was no," she said. "I said, OK, 100 per cent I’m going to do it. I like a challenge."
She got in touch with the owner of a local sprinkler company who took her on right away. She spent about four or five years there before taking some time off for maternity leave.
"I did end up having a baby in that time. That’s why it took me so long to complete the apprenticeship because I did go on mat leave," said the single mom from Kitchener.
Young put her apprenticeship on hold until her son was seven months old. In the end it took her roughly six to seven years to complete the apprenticeship.
Upon returning from her maternity leave, Young started a job with a different company, Prime Fire Protection.
"They have absolutely been the most supportive company I have ever worked for," she said. "They signed me up right away, put me on with an amazing fitter who gave me the time I needed to get back to where I needed to be."
She added, "They are the reason I succeeded at this because they have been so supportive in helping me gain the knowledge that I needed and taking the time to explain any questions I had.
"From every fitter I took something different and it really helped me get where I am. Prime is the reason that I was able to finish my apprenticeship and get back on track."
She also credits her success to the support she got from fellow sprinkler fitters who helped her along the way, UA Local 853 Sprinkler Fitters Ontario and her family. Thanks to them, she was able to complete her apprenticeship, she said.
Through her own journey, Young has some advice to share for women considering the trades.
"Don’t hesitate. Just do it," she stated. "There is no trade that we would not be able to do at all. You just have to be strong willed, strong minded and don’t give up regardless of what your personal life throws at you or what other people say. Don’t give up, that’s key.
"I could have given up many times, especially with how long it took me to get through this apprenticeship. I had a lot of stuff going on in my personal life. Just keep in your mind that if you want something, you can achieve it, period, man or woman."