Careers in the trades can take you to many different places and open the door to many opportunities.
That was the message students who attended the second annual Women in Construction Trades Conference heard from young tradeswomen.
“I’ve been in the trades for 13 years and it has absolutely changed my life,” said Shylah Nokusis, a Red Seal carpenter, second-year ironworker and second-year scaffolder. “Being in the trades has opened so many doors for me opportunity-wise. I’ve travelled all over Canada, from B.C. to Iqaluit. Because of the money I was making I was able to save up enough money to start my own business and I was able to pay off my house by the time I was 30.”
The conference, hosted by Skills Canada in partnership with UA Canada, was supposed to be held as part of the Skills Canada National Competition in Vancouver this year but was held online due to COVID-19.
While tradespeople start out on the tools, a career can lead down many different paths. Nokusis is currently the office co-ordinator for the Office to Advance Women Apprentices, a government-funded initiative to enhance entry, advancement and completion outcomes for women in the skilled construction trades.
It’s opened many doors that I never expected to have open when I began this journey,
— Jill Timushka
“That’s obviously something that is near and dear to my heart because I am a skilled tradeswoman myself and I’ve been there,” said Nokusis.
“Just because you are in the trades doesn’t mean you are going to be banging nails for the rest of your life. As you get older, your experience and the skills that you’ve learned, you can carry that on to another way of earning money.”
Angelique Lachance, an ironworker/welder and national construction safety officer with Ironworkers Local 725 in Calgary, has been in the trades for 11 years, said she was influenced by her grandfather who always told her that if you choose a career in the trades you will never be out of work.
“He couldn’t be more correct,” she said. “My career tends to bring me to all kinds of cool different spots. I specialize a little more in the industrial side of things, more of the shut down and maintenance. I go into agricultural plants, pulp and paper mills, coal mines, oilsand refineries, oil drilling rigs. I also do a variety of commercial work as well for small buildings all the way up to skyscrapers.”
Emily Schmit, a fourth-year apprentice plumber, said she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after she got her university degree.
“There are lots of job opportunities for women in the trades,” said Schmit. “I think it’s a fantastic idea to sign up at your local college or take a look at what is available to you. The job opportunities and the money you could be making and the satisfaction you get from your job is incredible. We need women.”
Melanie Beland, a pipe welder and member of UA Local 144 in Montreal, has been in the trade for 17 years. Her dad was a welder and influenced her to go into the trade.
“He is the one that made me try my first welding experience at the age of 12,” Beland recalled. “I bet he didn’t know at that time that a few years later his daughter would end up working as a UA pipe welder.”
She added, “I think women should see the trades as a serious exciting and challenging career opportunity. I truly think we are changing the image of the industry for the better and we should be proud to be the influence of our next generation.”
Meghan Arseneault, a second-year pipefitter apprentice with Local 214 in Saint John, New Brunswick said having a good support system in place is important.
“They’ve been there from day one they’ve always told me I can do anything I put my mind to,” she said. “They’ve been there when I have questions that I need answers to when it comes to the trades and they’ve been there when I was unsure of something.”
Jill Timushka, interim national manager of youth diversity and Indigenous relations with UA Canada, hosted the conference. She has been in the trades for 24 years as a welder, journeyman, instructor and also owns her own ornamental ironwork business.
“It’s opened many doors that I never expected to have open when I began this journey,” said Timushka, adding the trades offers careers people don’t often think about such as foreman, supervisor and project manager.
“I hope the stories you heard here today influence you in some way. Now is the time to join the trades and make it 50/50 women and men on our jobsites. If any of the women listening to this are considering a trade just go for it, trust me, you won’t regret it.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.