This is the section where you can find an overview of my experience as a female in the skilled trades thus far.
All of my experiences will be woven in the stories I write for the blog portion of this website.
Though I won’t disclose exactly where I work for privacy reasons, I think trade talk can be pretty applicable universally.
I will discuss some of the on-goings of my career in my blog, however this section will provide you with some insight as to my career at this point in time.
I work as an Industrial Mechanic-Millwright Apprentice for a successful steel manufacturing company in Hamilton, Ontario.
I started at my company as an apprentice/co-op student which was awesome because I got paid to learn and paid off my remaining university debt
ew debt while funding a diploma on my own.
I graduated from Mohawk College with my Diploma in Industrial Manufacturing Engineering Technician – Automation in 2016.
Before that, I studied Sociology at Brock University
Go Badgers Go! where I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology in 2012.
I saw fellow graduates go the social worker route or apply to government jobs and some choose to do a masters degree.
I decided to wait until I could decide and work for a year.
If you’re a Hamiltonian you will know what I’m about to discuss!
I started to work when I was 16. Naturally, I began to work in the mall I frequented called Eastgate Square where I pretty much worked part time for my entire student career.
I worked everywhere from Wok Express
which is gone now to the Shoppers Drug Mart as a Cosmetician, Ardene and for seven years, Tim Hortons!
I enjoyed my jobs in the food and retail industries as a struggling student.
Anywho, I’d often ask the technicians that came in to fix our machinery if I could do some of the small tasks they did so that we didn’t have to call them to come down every time something required minor repair.
I quickly learned a few little tricks and became handy with a screwdriver which prompted me to investigate a career using my hands and my fix-it skills.
I Googled “What are skilled trades?” and “Millwright” peaked my interest the most.
Truthfully, I had no idea what I was getting into.
I didn’t care, though, because I knew I was on the right path and I was starting to become excited!
For context, I was always the “girly-girl” and the person whose favourite line growing up was “ew, that’s for boys”.
You live and you learn lol.
After my research, I made an appointment with the Dean of Mohawk College for Skilled Trades (at the time) and the first thing I asked him was “Can women do this job?“
I’ll never forget what he said. I don’t remember his name
which is terrible of me but I didn’t know our meeting was about to change my life.
“Of course you can. In fact, we’re really looking to get women interested in the trades because you are too far and few in between.“
He also gave me all the information I needed to apply and I was accepted for the upcoming semester.
My parents were especially proud that I had found what I wanted to do with my life and I was happy that I was their “little millwright daughter.”
Now, I had taken a break in the middle of my university career on a whim to study at Niagara College.
I took the pre-health program and was convinced that I was to be a nurse.
That was a hard no.
I was ready to faint at the mention of blood or human innards, which was basically everything and anything medical, lol, and had such a strong dislike for it so I quit and felt like a failure.
I ended up with my tail between my legs and going back to complete my degree at Brock University.
Initially this is why I was hesitant to enter into a new program a second time, but this felt different.
The first time I went to shop class I thought I was going to be set on fire, lol.
My hands would sweat and my heart would race but I’d collect myself in the washroom with a pep talk and give it my all.
I asked my shop teacher with a group of other students
guys standing around also trying to learn about how to sharpen a drill bit on a pedestal grinder:
“Will the sparks hurt?”
I saw the corners of several mouths turn upward with a smile. I knew I was going into this with a lot of questions so I took it upon myself to not care what others thought about my silly questions and asked whatever I had to.
Plus, the guys weren’t being mean and I knew this.
I’d have giggled at me too, lol.
I didn’t know at the time that these “sparks” were metal filament from the drill bit and wouldn’t hurt me.
The other students and professors were very helpful…
And I still work with some of the guys I went to school with who also began at the same company when I did.
Out of my entire graduating class there were 3 women including myself.
The other two girls were so smart.
I was intimidated and jealous that they knew so much but I was also so grateful that they were nice and helped me learn so much.
I didn’t know how to do math or what fluid power meant.
I was use to writing essays and reading textbooks, not reading micrometers or verniers.
When I saw engineered drawings for a pump for the first time it looked like instructions for a space ship or an airplane.
Then, the next thing I knew I was assisting in a fifteen-foot vertical turbine pump rebuild that had five impellers bigger than I am.
Learning from the ground up felt like I was dropped in the middle of a different country that had a language, set of rules and understanding that I had ZERO perspective into.
I had to learn it all day by day and I think it is important to understand that one cannot learn a skilled trade overnight.
It takes time, patience and effort to hone the skills you learn, but failure is a wonderful teacher when trying to learn.
I’ve made alllllll the mistakes, lol.
I didn’t know the difference between a nut and a bolt or anything at all.
The tools I was used to were makeup tools!
Now I use power tools like pneumatic impact guns and grinders – pedestal or hand held, and no, I’m not afraid of the “sparks” anymore lol – and I can wrench or weld when required.
When I first started at the steel mill, again, I thought I was going to die.
Google “steelmaking” and you can imagine the shock of my delicate feminine self walking into an uber-masculine, fiery and loud steelmaking plant.
But then I actually talked to the guys and a couple of hours later I was fine.
Plus, I had just gone through a week’s worth of safety training so I felt pretty confident in my new PPE – hard hat, safety boots and safety glasses! – and with my newfound safety knowledge.
Fast forward nearly six years and here I am.
Now, I spend most of the time in my office as a Mechanical Maintenance Planner for Buildings and Infrastructure for the part of the mill I work in.
My career took a turn in the planning direction when I became pregnant with Mila and had to leave the mill floor to be as safe as possible.
It’s safe out there – it’s just unfamiliar territory for a pregnant woman but totally do-able.
Initially, I was set up in an office doing paperwork for the trades but I noticed an internal job opening in my department for a maintenance planner so after some discussion with coworkers, I applied for one of the openings.
I applied because I had other schooling to my name and to my delight I was accepted after an interview and discussion with leadership.
I still plan to become Red-Seal Certified as a Millwright though my apprenticeship is looking a little different and taking a bit of a detour.
All in due time!
Well, that’s pretty much an overview of where I am at in my career thus far.
I love and value my career and can’t take photos on the floor due to our strict Business Code of Conduct – but that’s okay!
I think visual imagery will do just fine relating my experience to you.
There are several badass tradeswomen I follow on Instagram that you can check out if interested.
I hope you have enjoyed my adventure so far.
I want to answer trade related questions and talk about some things that I’ve been asked or have had to find out for myself in the vast world of the skilled trades.
Like, how do I keep my skin clean after getting really dirty at work with dust and grease?
What products do I use?
What is it like working with the majority of men?
Okay, I’ll give you this one right off the hop:
The guys have been wonderful. I wouldn’t give my work family away for nothin in the entire world!
Soul family indeed.
Kaila A. Notto
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