The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t hinder efforts by Skills Ontario to host the Women in Skilled Trades and Technologies conference, where several trailblazing women shared their experience and advice with an online audience.
Originally scheduled to be held in conjunction with the 2020 Skills Ontario Competition, the conference was held virtually May 5.
“When I first started working as a welder there were very few women on the jobsite. Many times I was the first woman that they had ever hired, so it was very important to me to make a good impression as a sort of trailblazer,” said Jill Timushka, national manager of youth, diversity and Indigenous relations, and a B Pressure Welder at UA Canada. “In the past 24 years I have seen an increase of women on jobsites and it has been so great to see. They all support each other and on most jobsites I would even reach out to new women who were just starting out to let them know that I was there for them if they ever needed me. I think it’s very important to set up a foundation of strength so that we keep these women on the jobsites.”
She said she wishes she got into the trade earlier in life.
My advice is to find other women already working in your trade of interest,
— Meredith Halfpenny
“When I was in high school, I was not offered the shop or welding program. Back then it was unusual for females to take those types of courses and it’s a shame,” said Timushka, who is a fourth-generation welder. “I wanted to do something that I enjoyed and that I got paid well to do. My dad was a welder, so I was able to try welding with him. I loved it right away.
“I own an ornamental ironwork business, I became an instructor and I now work for head office and get to speak to people about my passion for working in the trades which goes to show that many new doors open when you join the trades,” she added.
Meredith Halfpenny, a wind site technician and first year electrician apprentice at Boralex, became interested in the trades when she was working as a security guard on construction sites.
She joined Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE) in 2012 where she found the support and encouragement to switch careers. She has worked on the construction side of 10 different wind projects and performed service work on several others.
“My advice is to find other women already working in your trade of interest or find an organization that supports and promotes women in trades and non-traditional careers,” said Halfpenny, adding she is now an ambassador for WiRE. “Finding a network of women who are already doing what you hope to do is invaluable.
“Without them, I feel like I would have thought that maybe this wasn’t the right thing to do or maybe there was a stigma with this type of work being a woman. When I became part of WiRE, I met all these super supportive women in the trades. This is what really kickstarted things for me.”
She is part of a small team that oversees the daily operations of two different wind farms.
“I’m always learning new ways to troubleshoot and repair electrical issues and that’s what I enjoy most. This is not just the same thing day in and day out, it’s always changing and you are always being challenged,” Halfpenny said.
Catherine Mathewson, an automotive refinisher and Skills Ontario Alumni, who is soon hoping to become a fully licensed autobody technician, went to a school that offered a lot of technical courses which is how she got into the field. From there, she began competing in Skills Ontario competitions for car painting and did well, competing at provincials and nationals and earning a gold medal.
“Where I want to end up is full circle, teaching the autobody program back at my high school because I really lucked out having an amazing autobody teacher. He helped me pave my way to where I am today,” said Mathewson.
“If I can go into teaching and give someone else the opportunity that I was given then to me that’s the most fulfilling thing in the world, to see other people going into the trades.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.