The best way to find out if a trade is for you is to try it.
That was the advice from a panel of mentors at the Skills Ontario First Nations, Metis and Inuit Student conference, held recently.
“I took a summer job on the reserve I grew up on for a very small construction company and I absolutely loved it,” said Harrison Plain, a journeyman and Red Seal certified carpenter. “When I got into high school, I took a co-op. I actually did it more than once. I wanted to make sure that this was something I liked. That was a really good opportunity for me because I was getting my credits, I was getting a break from the desk, I was still going to graduate and I was gaining skills in this trade.”
Jacob Cowling who is currently doing an internship at Bruce Power for mechanical maintenance said he knew he wanted to pursue a career in the trades because he has always liked working with his hands.
“My Grade 12 year I took advantage of a high school co-op offered through Bruce Power,” he said. “I went in for something similar to what I do now, mechanical maintenance. For getting into the trades I would suggest that you go through a co-op, go through an internship, get into it and make sure it’s what you want to do first because the opportunity is there.”
Denya Mendowegan who lived on a reservation near Thunder Bay, Ont. for a short time as a child said his introduction to the trades began when he moved to the country with his foster parents.
“In the country I found a love for building and working hard,” he said. “I had the opportunity to use tools and machinery. For school I took business, human resources, drug therapy and just completed welding, being my favourite because it had the best opportunities. Welding set me up with my career job in Brandon, Man. at Behlen Industries which is the largest steel manufacturer in Canada starting May 31.”
All of the mentors shared hurdles they have had to overcome through their education and careers in the trades.
“The greatest challenge or difficulty that I had to overcome to get to where I am today was the initial entry into my trade and in particular being accepted into the local Carpenters’ Union,” said Plain. “I had very comparable qualifications that other members of the local Carpenters’ Union had but the process to get my foot in the door and get accepted took much longer. I would love to tell you that it was really easy and that I got in without much effort, but I had to be persistent. I had to keep applying, I had to keep working at another job that would build my qualifications and my skillset to be a carpenter. I had to go through several series of aptitude tests and interviews.”
He also talked about the importance of not giving up.
“I don’t know for sure that it has anything to do with me being First Nations, but when I did join and I started working I found that I was one of the only ones,” he said.
Jennifer Mueller from Oshawa, Ont. part of the Oneida Nation of the Thames graduated from the radiation safety program at Loyalist College in Port Hope. She has been a civil maintainer at Ontario Power Generation (OPG) in Pickering for two years. Part of the custodial side of civil maintenance, she is qualified to work in radioactive environments and does cleaning in the reactor building. She agreed that persistence is key.
“I went to college with the intent of being a radiation protection technician,” she told the audience. “When I applied I got sent the aptitude test and I failed and it crushed me. I thought about giving up and going back to doing what I was doing before working minimum wage. I ended up meeting another woman through the Indigenous Opportunities Network and she worked at OPG and she’s the one who told me about civil maintenance. I failed the aptitude test a second time but I’m going to keep trying. Nothing is just going to fall in your lap.”
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