Jamie McMillan, a journeyman ironworker and apprentice boilermaker in Hamilton, Ont. is on a mission to encourage more young people, especially girls and young women, to enter the skilled trades.
“I tell everyone I meet about the great opportunities in the skilled trades,” said McMillan. “I encourage all young people, especially those who, like me, aren’t academically inclined, to give it serious consideration. I didn’t like school but I’m very mechanical, practical and good with my hands and I’ve found a career that I do well and that I enjoy.”
Originally from Timmins, Ont., McMillan relocated to Hamilton, where she was employed — unhappily — as a personal support workers and part-time restaurant server.
“By chance I met an old high school classmate on the street one day,” said McMillan. “I told her I was looking for a change and she told me she was a journeyman ironworker and that I should sign up as an apprentice.”
McMillan became an ironworker in 2002 and a few years later, an apprentice boilermaker.
In 2006, Skills Ontario, which promotes the skilled trades and technologies in that province, asked McMillan to speak at a mentorship banquet for girls on the subject of career pathways.
That engagement was such a success that it led to more public speaking, as well as regular appearances on radio and television.
In 2014 McMillan and co-founder Pat Williams, a retired stationery operating engineer in Los Angeles, started KickAss Careers to promote the skilled trades.
(The unusual and forthright name was chosen by some high school students who had particularly enjoyed one of McMillan’s presentations.)
KickAss is a school and community outreach program. Its goal is to engage, educate and encourage young men and women to consider careers in the mechanical, industrial, technology, construction (MITC) and advanced manufacturing industries.
In addition to McMillan and Williams, KickAss has nine ambassadors who take part in events to promote opportunities in the skilled trades in their respective cities and regions.
“I take six months off the tools every year to work on KickAss,” said McMillan.
“The public speaking keeps me very busy. Between the beginning of April and the end of June this year, I will have made about 200 presentations at different venues across North America.”
Spring and fall are the busiest times of the year for KickAss’s public outreach.
“That’s when the high schools want to promote opportunities in the skilled trades to their students,” said McMillan. “It’s also when the post-secondary institutions where young people would do the academic part of their apprenticeships want to make themselves known.”
McMillan says KickAss Careers is performing an important service for the skilled trades in Canada.
“There is a huge shortage of skilled trades workers,” McMillan said. “The shortage has been caused by, in addition to the number of people retiring, the failure of many schools to promote the skilled trades to their students. And it (the skilled trades gap) won’t be closed by bringing in foreign workers.”
Not everybody wants to be a lawyer, doctor or a white-collar professional, she says.
“Many people prefer mechanical, practical and visual means of learning to academic programs in college and university,” McMillan said.
KickAss are also at creative marketing and promotion. For example, its eco-friendly, paperless, do-it-yourself KickAss photo booth lets students dress up in authentic MITC work gear, using tools and personal protective equipment as props with a customized built-in frame. Students can immediately upload their photos to social media through the KickAss photo booth application, which automatically includes hashtags of its brand, partner brands, the event and all applicable sponsors.
The goal is to increase traffic to KickAss’s social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram Snapchat and LinkedIn) and the kickasscareers.org website, which provides a resource page for promoting careers in MITC.
Another KickAss promotion is the Workplace Equality (WE) Awareness Ribbon Campaign. Its tagline is “Treat Everyone the Same Regardless of Differences.”
The purpose of the WE campaign is to raise awareness of the challenges women face in occupations dominated by males and to help them to fit in and be treated as equals.
The campaign features a red and white polka dot ribbon awareness piece that “supports the conversation about the importance of a diverse and equal workplace free from all types of harassment, bullying and discrimination regardless of differences.
“Our hope is that one day the WE Ribbon will be recognized globally as a simple statement, identifying an employer who supports integrating all the core values of what a diverse, equal and inclusive workplace should embrace.”