Women Of All Trades

North West Regional College welding students Kelli Gervais (left) and Katie Sylvestre demonstrate their newly-honed skills. The young women are part of a fresh wave of tradespersons helping to change the face of the industry. (Photo by Omar Mosleh)

North West Regional College welding students Kelli Gervais (left) and Katie Sylvestre demonstrate their newly-honed skills. The young women are part of a fresh wave of tradespersons helping to change the face of the industry. (Photo by Omar Mosleh)

It’s easy for North West Regional College student Katie Sylvestre to explain why she entered a trade traditionally seen as a man’s domain.

“I know there’re not that many girls in welding, so I wanted to prove that girls can do what guys can do,” she said with a laugh.

And can they ever.

Sylvestre is one of many young women entering trades traditionally dominated by males at North West Regional College.

Many of the women, such as Alicia McWatters, entered the electrician program at North West with little to no experience.

McWatters decided to become an electrician after spending about 10 years in the hospitality industry.

“The reason I took this course is because I wanted to have a job around home, and I know we have a shortage of electricians out there,” McWatters said. “I thought it’d be a good career for myself.”

Others, such as classmate Natasha Neufeld, previously took an electrician elective in high school and also worked in the field for a company in Prince Albert.

“That’s what actually got me going into it,” she said. “I really liked it, enjoyed it and it’s good money.”

The program at North West has bolstered her knowledge of the trade and allowed her to build upon her former skills.
“It’s more in detail, and I got more class time taking the program than I did hands-on,” she said. “After doing it hands-on, and now doing the book work, it just clicked.”

And while both women may have entered the program with different skill sets, they had similar motivations: to create a better life for themselves and their families.

“I think coming back to school has a lot to do with raising teenagers,” said McWatters, a mother of three. “I don’t think you can ever get enough schooling.”

Neufeld also decided to go back to school after she had a son. And that’s part of the reason she wants to work in Prince Albert rather than move away.

“Working locally, it’s a big enough area that you can go out of town but still be home every night with your kids,” she said.

So how do the women find pursuing a trade where women are the minority?

Some, such as welding student Kelli Gervais, got a gentle ribbing from her brothers, who are also welders.

“They would bug me and say stuff like ‘Really? You’re going to go into that?’”

But it would appear Neufeld has found a good strategy to deal with skeptics.

“There’re so many stereotypes about women doing a man’s job … but you’ve just got to give it right back and they’ll leave you alone,” she said.

McWatters said she would “absolutely” recommend women to enter the trades, if only because of the sheer opportunities they present.

And she believes women shouldn’t be discouraged by thinking they can’t do as good a job as men.

In fact, the trade has presented her opportunities to show that not only can women do the same job, but in some cases, they can do it even better.

“When they see a woman come in, I’ve got to show them up a little bit,” she chuckled.

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