Before I started my apprenticeship, I was wary about becoming a tradesperson.
Here I debunk the Top 5 misconceptions I had when I started as an apprentice in 2014.
#1. The Masculine Stereotype
I had misconceptions about what I thought a tradesperson was supposed to look like.
Femininity and womanhood took a backseat, and I shaved my head to try and fit in at first.
The truth is, you can be who you are and be good at your job, regardless of what you look like.
I use tools, don safety gear and read engineered drawings while maintaining my femininity.
There has never been a situation where my makeup negatively impacted my quality of work.
Fitting the stereotype of the tomboy or masculine woman was never in the cards for me.
Embracing my identity as a feminine woman and competent tradesperson took years.
The biggest obstacle was my own self-doubt!
#2. Misogyny Rules
On my first day at the steel mill, I walked in terrified.
I had never worked with predominantly men.
My mentors had tough-looking exteriors, but were some of the most kind people I have ever met.
Of course there has been the odd outlier where some man has tried to belittle me as a woman.
The opinions of small-minded people are not my problem, and I have never allowed it to escalate.
I gravitate towards people who are supportive, willing to teach and accept me.
#3. The Work is Hard Labor
Learning a skilled trade by the book in school was very different than working jobs out on the field.
Measurement tools and math problems were different from removing a stuck roll inside equipment at a mill.
We use technology to our advantage, but there are situations where physical strength is necessary.
We work as a team to get the job done.
As a planner, I am able to utilize my mechanical knowledge and office skills to plan jobs that tradesmen execute.
There are several paths you can take as a millwright, and not all of them are physically intense.
Fabrication or repair of equipment and machinery offers smaller-scale work that is satisfying to do.
I chose a dirtier environment by its nature, but there are other processes that are more clean if preferred.
#4. Becoming Licensed Takes Forever
At first, the 7280 hours required before qualifying to become licensed as a millwright seemed daunting.
That did not include the 720 hours of in-school learning the apprenticeship requires.
It takes apprentices about 2-3 years to go from apprentice to licensed industrial mechanic.
The time flew by because each day has brought new challenges and learning outcomes!
It never felt like it took as long as it looked on paper.
Investing in an education that I was interested in has left me with a valuable, lifelong career.
#5. Millwrighting is Unsafe
Working in a steel mill seemed frightening at first.
Safety procedures, mandatory personal protective equipment (PPE) and more allow us to be informed and to work safely.
We isolate moving parts, wear gear to protect our bodies and use cranes to lift heavy items.
Over the years, procedures continue to improve and we as workers are informed and empowered in choosing to work safely.
Extra precautions were taken when I became pregnant to ensure my health, and not once have I felt limited as a woman.
Accidents seem to happen most often to those who choose to ignore safety protocol.
It can be physically or mentally challenging some days, but safety is always priority.
Want to learn more?
Here are some resources to get you started:
Industrial Mechanic Millwright (Ontario)
Mohawk College Apprenticeship Program
Industrial Mechanic Red Seal Certification
Career Talks – Industrial Mechanic Millwright
Prospective Learning Includes:
Choose a link to learn more.
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