Two Different Programs, Three Distinct Stories
There’s a saying that goes, “It would be tough to be the only white chicken in a black chicken coop”. The same theory seems to be applying for men trying to work in female-dominated fields and for women trying to work in male-dominated fields.
Bill Smith, Teacher in Trades at Northern Lights College (NLC) says, “The black chickens are going to pick on the white chicken. I’ve had lots of girls in the trades. On average, I teach about one or two women a year in the programs. The percentages are way off. They usually get through the program; some go on to work in a trade. Others hit that glass ceiling. You can’t go to work every day and be leered at or degraded,” he continues, “The same things happen when it’s a women dominated field. My wife’s a nurse. It’s the opposite and the same things do happen.”
Though we may never be able to change our pack mentality, we can try and level out the playing field in terms of male versus female ratios. Through the Trades and Apprenticeship programs at NLC a few women are trying to find their way. Smith says, “Women can be successful in the trades, but there needs to be more money spent or more people willing to get involved. Women usually have quite a high degree of skill.”
Sam Teed, 19, is enrolled in the Millwright program at NLC. She hopes to one day work in a mine or at a Mill fixing equipment.
In his millwright and welding programs this semester, Smith has a few women who are all looking to gain skills in a trade, but all for different reasons. Sam Teed, 19, is in her first year of the millwright program. Coming from Stony Creek, a Native reserve outside of Vanderhoof, she’s had financial and educational assistance through The Prince George Nechako Aboriginal Employment and Training Association (PGNAETA). She says, “PGNAETA helped me to upgrade my Math and English to get into the trades. Then, they helped me get into College and paid for my tuition. They bought me about $1,500 worth of gear.”
Though she is an Aboriginal woman in the trades program, Teed says for the most part, the boys in the class don’t bother her. “One guy asked me if I wanted to go to a sweat lodge,” she continues with a giggle, “He said, you look ‘the part’. For the most part the guys are pretty cool, they don’t make it hard.”
Being a woman in the trades program, says Teed, also lends to a few advantages. She says, “I seem to get more help because I’m a woman. We had an instructor for the foundation part and it seemed he told me more than he would a male. This guy and I were making the same thing, a baseball bat keychain. I asked the teacher one thing and then he would go in and pretty much do it for me. My keychain turned out way better than the other guy’s. The teacher kept helping me, and I was thinking, ‘I wanna do it’.”
When her schooling is complete, Teed is looking forward to going home. She hopes to get a job in a mine or a mill fixing machines. She says, “I’ve been away for a long time. I miss my family.”
Tyonnia Studley, 18, is enrolled in the welding program at NLC. Her goal is to one day become a pipe liner.
Tyonnia Studley, 18, is also in a trade, but with a very different story. She is attending NLC in the welding program, and is doing the daily half hour drive to school from her family’s farm in Sunrise Valley. She says, “I welded on the farm and I took a liking to it. Then, a person I know pushed me into taking the duel credit.” The duel credit is a program offered through high schools. She says, “You get accepted, and the high school pays your tuition. Then, all you have to pay for is your books, tools and stuff like that. You also get high school credits for taking the duel credit. I graduated from high school with 16 extra credits.”
Studley is at the start of the process, working on her C ticket. Eventually she wants to be a journeyman (or journeyperson). “When I get my 1,500 apprenticeship hours, I’ll come back and get my B ticket. I worked all summer pipelining with a pressure welder, and I’ve been apprenticing under him. I will come back and get my ticket to be a journeyman.”
As one of the few women in the program, Studley says it just takes a while for the guys to get used to women being there. She says, “We work just as hard as they do. Some guys kind of put their guard up because they sometimes think, ‘Oh, there’s a lady coming in here and doing my job better’. I see both sides.”
Studley’s career goals are to get her own rig and weld pipe. Her advice for other women looking to come into a trade is simple, “Don’t be intimidated. I was really intimidated when I came in here. I thought, ‘Holy man, there’s a bunch of guys,” she continues, “You’re here to do your schooling, get your ticket, then go out into the workforce. Grab the bull by the horns and just give’er.”
Angela Sullivan, 18, is enrolled in the Welding program at NLC. With an artistic background, she hopes to use her welding skills to make giant sculptures.
Angela Sullivan, 18, is a woman who has definitely taken the bull by the horns, but in an artistic fashion. Also starting her C ticket in welding, she is taking the modular course. This program will take her about seven months to complete instead of the usual six weeks. She says, “I’m from Chetwynd. I tried moving but certain things didn’t work out so I’m staying in Chetwynd and taking a bus which is provided from the high school. The trip is about one and half hours each way,” she continues, “I grew up poor and didn’t have much. It is a miracle I’m even here. I managed to get the money right on-time. I was working at Fields in town and making about $400 every two weeks. I was on the waiting list to get into the welding program. The person in front of me said he couldn’t pay for it right away. I had the $400 coming so I thought, ‘Holy, if I could get the other $186 I’ll be ok.’ My boyfriend paid $100 and my mom paid the rest.”
So here she is, but for a very different reason than the other women. Imagine, a giant three—dimensional Angel fish, one of her future projects. Sullivan says, “I hope to take it to an artsy kind of thing and build weird sculptures. I took art for a long time in high school. It drew me into welding because my art teacher always wanted to learn it and do sculptures. I quite enjoy welding. I didn’t think I would like it as much as I do. Whenever I’m stuck on how to do a technique, Bill will come in and show me how to do it. He really helps relate a technique to something we know. For Tyonnia, he relates it a lot to horseback riding. He always looks for different ways to try and teach you.”
Sullivan says it’s important to find people in the program you can trust. She says, “Come with your head held high and don’t care what anybody is going to say. There is always going to be people who are trying to throw you under the bus and others who are going to try and help you out. Know who those people are.”