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Tradeswomen share first-hand experiences working in a male-dominated industry

Angela Gismondi
Tradeswomen share first-hand experiences working in a male-dominated industry

A woman’s voice can and will be heard on a construction site, whether men want to hear it or not.

This was the message Alyssa Crewe wanted to convey as one of the speakers on a panel held at the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum’s Supporting Women in the Trades Conference held recently in Halifax.

“I found in my last four years that the more that you spoke up and you had something to say, the more respect I got,” she said.

Crewe works for a company in Newfoundland called SDP, comprised of SNC-Lavalin, Dragados and Pennecon. She is currently involved in the Husky West White Rose project building a concrete gravity structure.

She pointed out that employers need to realize women have different needs.

“Companies, employers and government have to realize that it’s not easy, especially in a trade where I have to travel to work for an hour-and-a-half before I even get to work for a 10-hour day,” said Crewe, who is 27 and has a young son. “I worked on three big projects here in Newfoundland, one of which required getting on a plane to Labrador. It’s difficult to get a phone call saying your child is sick and you can’t do anything about it. You miss a lot of things that a lot of people take for granted.”

Although she wanted to become an interior designer, she realized it wasn’t for her and decided she would try carpentry.

“It started out with I needed a job that could provide myself and my son with the money to survive,” explained Crewe. “I needed something that was going to help us get through everything and something that was going to have benefits and that could help me plan if something happened to either one of us. A trade seemed like the right fit at the time.”
She thought she might get her journeyperson ticket and go into engineering but has come to realize a “desk job” is not for her.

“In the last four years I got to be part of three really big history making jobs in Newfoundland. I successfully helped build the Hebron oil rig that is pumping oil on the Grand Banks. I’m helping build another one now, and I was part of the Muskrat Falls project. I can look at that in 20 years time and say I took part in that and there are not a lot of people that can say that,” said Crewe.

She said the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador offers many opportunities for women in the trades. The ratios in the province are also an important factor.

“Because of that, a lot more women get the opportunity to learn and see if it is something they want to do,” said Crewe.

She is planning to write her journeyperson ticket in the new year. She also hopes to become a female foreperson.

“I would like to see myself go further than that and get a superintendent role eventually,” said Crewe. “You are never too old or too smart to learn something. Whether I become a journeyman or a superintendent, you’ve still got to learn.”

Antonia Wareham, a welder apprentice from Nova Scotia, was also part of the panel. She took a 14-week exploratory program with Women Unlimited, an organization focused on mentoring, education and networking. After completing the program and two years of school, she is now a welder for Irving Shipbuilding at the Halifax shipyard. One week into the job she took the level one inspection course so she can now qualify people to be welders. She is currently working on building Arctic and off shore patrol ships for the Canadian Navy.

“These ships are top of the line, state-of-the-art with all the bells and whistles. We’re taking them from the ground up,” said Wareham, adding she has worked on everything from a light fixture to a seam on the outside of the ship.

“The most humbling part about it for me is that these ships will be in the water for at least 40 years.”

She shared some advice for all women in the industry.

“Don’t give up, don’t take no for an answer, push for your goals no matter what obstacles get in your way,” said Wareham. “Don’t see yourself as the minority…just do your job and don’t focus on the fact that you are one woman out of a handful. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what your goal is, who you are or what you are currently doing. We as women, we can do anything as long as we put our mind to it.”

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