Mira Polski is living that HGTV dream.
That’s what the Level 2 carpenter’s apprentice based in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. told the students attending the virtual Day of the Girl event organized by Skills Ontario. The day, marked on Oct. 11, is dedicated to celebrating the voices, empowering girls, championing their rights worldwide and reflecting on the challenges they continue to face because of their gender.
“I get to see every stage of the construction process,” she explained. “I come in, I do the walk-through, we do demo. I start building their new addition. I get to meet with all the subtrades and kind of learn a little bit about what’s all going on there…It’s really exciting to always come back, because we’re kind of gone while other subtrades are coming in and doing their thing and then you just see how much the space has transformed.”
Now 22, Polski knew she wanted to be a carpenter since she was five years old.
“My parents had home renovations and we were always involved in that,” she recalled. “I have a photo of me when we did our big kitchen renovation and I’m carrying bricks and I’m just itty-bitty, wearing overalls and I’m seven…but I was just so happy.”
Polski was a straight A student and she got a lot of pushback when she told people she wanted a career in the trades.
“They were like, ‘Well don’t sell yourself short…what about engineer and architecture?’” she recounted. “I have ADHD. I can do really well in a classroom but I’m not happy there. I always have to keep doing different things so I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”
When she took her first shop class in Grade 9 she realized she was only one of two females.
“I was worried that these guys would have other experience…that they already knew how to use the tools and I didn’t know anything,” she said. “I learned that wasn’t the case at all.”
She is glad she stuck with it and built the skills she needed.
“I took a dual credit course which is amazing. I’d recommend that for anyone in high school,” Polski said. “I ended up being able to spend half my day at my local college, which was Conestoga College, and I would do a different trade each day of the week.”
She said the course helped broaden her mind because she was so focused on carpentry. Through the course, she found she was good at plumbing. She realizes there are so many opportunities to switch paths in the future.
While she was on the fence about doing the co-op program, she is ultimately glad she did it.
She ended up spending three years working for the framing company. She also took a renovation technician course.
When asked about the challenges she faces in the male-dominated industry, she said one of the things she had to get over was her small stature.
“We have these ideas of what a construction guy looks like. I remember thinking well that’s not even me,” she pointed out.
She said women need to realize they bring something unique to the table and everyone needs to start somewhere.
“You can’t go in trying to be this big burly tough guy because that’s not you. I’m a 5’2” female so I’m quite tiny, which means that I get to fit into all the tiny spaces pretty easy that the other guys can’t,” Polski said.
Trying to get rid of your own biases and seeking out female mentors in the community is also critical. She suggested starting on social media and reaching out.
Up until a year ago she was the only female onsite at the company she’s currently working for, but she found she has become comfortable working around men of all ages.
“I used to work with this framer and he was in his 70s,” said Polski. “He showed me all these little tricks that he used because he was like ‘you know my body’s getting old so I can’t lift this so this is what I do.’ That was really beneficial for me.”
She has also become an advocate for young women to join the trades as an ambassador with KickAss Careers.
“Having those guest speakers come in and those discussions with other skilled trades people I remember they left such an impact on me,” Polski noted.
In terms of advice, she encouraged students to have confidence in who they are.
“There’s going to be something about you that only you can bring to the team and that’s super important,” said Polski. “You can’t figure that out or discover it if you’re trying to be somebody else.”
The virtual series called A Sit Down with… will also feature skilled tradespeople Dee Durant, Jessica Duquette and Kendra Liinamaa.
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.