Inspiring. Uplifting. Fulfilling.
Those are the words Jamie McMillan, founder and spokesperson of KickAss Careers, used to describe how she feels when she spends time with the next generation of skilled tradeswomen.
“I don’t even know how to express it in words,” McMillan told the Daily Commercial News. “You see the women coming up behind us that are there for the real reasons. They’re passionate, they’re all about the trades, they’re so interested in getting out to the schools and talking to students and they want to push that message forward.
“It makes us as older trailblazers feel like we’ve done a good job of helping mentor the next generation of skilled trades workers.”
McMillan recently organized an event at the Cre8tive Welding workshop in Erin, Ont. with members of the KickAss Careers team.
Mira Polski, a carpenter’s apprentice working towards her Red Seal, has always known that she wanted to work in the skilled trades.
“I don’t know why but there wasn’t any other job that really sparked my interest,” she said. “What I really love about being a carpenter is that there is so much variety in the work. I’m working for a local contractor and I’m there the first time we walk through a project, I’m there doing demo, then I get to do all the structural framing in the building. I get to talk to all the HVAC, the plumbers, all the subtrades. I‘m there every step of the way.”
Although she’s 5’2” she says her job has made her stronger and given her confidence.
“Just walking onto the jobsite the first time I was terrified,” she recalled. “I’ve never seen a 5’2” female walking around a jobsite before so it was just, ‘how can I do it? How can I lift these sheets? How can I move my body to make it work?’ One of the framers I was working with, he was in his 70s and still framing, so for him he was running into some physical challenges as well. He taught me a lot of little tricks of the trade to make it easier on your body and how to actually leverage your body weight so that was so helpful.”
Growing up Dee Durant didn’t know the skilled trades were an option but now the apprentice electrician can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I wanted to be a meteorologist,” admitted Durant, who works for DHT Electrical in London, Ont., adding she was on track to study meteorology in university. “I like lightning and lightning is an electric discharge, so electricity. That is the entire, full, 100 per cent truth of how I got into the electrical trade.”
She shared some advice she thinks everyone in high school should know.
“Try something that you can’t see yourself doing or something that you’ve never done before in high school while it’s free,” said Durant.
Her parents encouraged her to try something new. She tried a health care course like her sister, but it wasn’t for her.
“I took a custom woodworking class which was the only construction class that my school offered,” she explained. “I absolutely loved the environment… I learned so many transferrable skills in that class and I gained so much confidence. That’s actually the class I met Jamie in. That class completely changed my life.”
She decided to go to school to become a powerline technician but couldn’t see herself doing it as a career so she took the Electrical Engineering Technician — Industrial at Conestoga College.
She admits the job is not always smooth sailing and there have been challenges along the way.
“With every work environment there are going to be some people who don’t want you there,” she said. “There are going to be some people who don’t know how to act around you, who are inappropriate, but that’s with every work environment. For the most part my experience has been awesome.”
What is important is to have support to get through those challenges.
“Women in this room, for example, we’re all going through stuff, we all deal with something, but us dealing with it, us educating people respectfully…that can start a positive movement and get the ball rolling,” Durant noted.
Electrical apprentice Maya Hoyte wanted to be a firefighter but decided to pursue a career in the trades instead.
“I was told I would have a better chance of getting in to be a firefighter if I took a trade because then you know the general layout of buildings,” she said.
She stumbled upon electrical by accident while at an open house in Conestoga College.
“I walked by the booth and one of the teachers started talking to me about electrical and I thought it was so cool and it just really appealed to me,” she said. “After talking to him I was like, ‘Wow this is the trade I want to do.’”
Over the years, she has worked for three electrical companies and each time she has been the only female.
“They said we’ve never hired a female before but this is the direction we want our company to go. We want to hire more females,” said Hoyte.
“I definitely feel like a unicorn onsite. I stick out on every site I go to for being a woman and also being mixed (race) because you don’t really see a lot of diversity.”
What does being a woman in the skilled trades mean to her?
“Women sticking up for each other, looking out for each other and encouraging each other to keep pursing the trades even on hard days,” she said.
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