How to Rev Up for a Career in The Trades
By Hayley Shaughnessy
If given the chance to determine your career path from the beginning again, what direction would you take? Monster recently released poll results that revealed whether or not Canadians would opt to pursue a different degree or diploma. It turns out more than half would, if granted the opportunity to go back in time.
Tell us about your current role.
I'm a mechanic and electrician specializing in emergency power generators and industrial diesel engines.
How did you get to where you are now?
There was a bit of trial and error. I was interested in the skilled trades in high school but there was little talk about it. I found that if you were studying the academic-stream courses, then there is a push is to apply to university, so I did.
Halfway through my first semester I was confident that I needed to research other career routes as I was not feeling driven in my studies. I found a power generation program that sounded intriguing and started immediately after wrapping up my term.
After finishing the power generation program, I was hired by a generator service company and the company paid for me to complete my Red Seal electrical apprenticeship.
What does a day in your work life look like?
Every day is different, which I love. With this type of work it’s just me working out of my service truck.
In a given day, I might travel to a site to perform scheduled maintenance (such as oil changes or switchgear testing) or I could be responding to an emergency callout where all you‘re told equipment is " not working" – and that's when the real fun happens. Troubleshooting used to be terrifying but now I find it extremely rewarding. I've had jobs that involve flying into sites on a helicopter or working on large diesel drives for trawlers and yachts.
Did anything stand out to motivate you to enter the industry?
Mathematics was always one of my stronger classes and it is used constantly in the electrical industry. I enjoyed seeing a direct practical application in the workforce for what I was studying in the classroom from trigonometry in electrical to putting fractions to use in order to grab the right wrench the first time. There is also a surprising amount of artistic merit to most trades, whether it is designing something new in carpentry, bending pipe for electrical conduit, or taking on an elaborate project in masonry.
What are some ‘aha!’ moments you’ve had so far in your career?
I work with a lot of heavy batteries and the first time I could lift one that weighs a lot more than I do was a pretty exciting moment. I’m also reminded why I do what I do every time a large project wraps up. There is a lot of closure with starting a project and seeing it to completion, often within the same day. Everyone in a trade goes through that phase where you are no longer the helper but the person to call for some technical advice and it is a great feeling.
What advice would you give to young women pursuing a career in trades?
Never be shy to ask questions. People may doubt you but that's the perfect opportunity to prove yourself through your work. It’s not glamorous and sometimes you have to rush to social outings after work covered in black oil but it's worth it. I know that everyone underestimates my physical abilities when they first see my size but if you're smart about mechanical advantage and are determined you can get any task done.
A career in the trades is quite technical in nature. Are there any soft skills – like communication or teamwork – that are just as important in your day-to-day work?
Communication is always key. You need to be able to explain the problem and solution to people of varying technical knowledge. Organization makes a world of difference, too. You could be scheduling several jobs in a day or managing a team of journeymen and apprentices. Understanding proper team building techniques will make this so much easier and the work getting done efficiently.
Is there anything else you’d like to share regarding why job seekers should never say never to a career in the trades?
There is a lot of flexibility with hours in most trade jobs. You get to work 42 weeks out of the year while completing a four-year apprenticeship. Many companies will pay for your schooling as well as field-specific technical upgrades. There are also a lot of tax rebates and grants for apprentices.
I find a lot of job satisfaction seeing what I have built or repaired for a customer and it's a bonus that most trade-focused careers keep you moving and physically fit. “If you’re finding yourself drawn to a career in the trades, I’d say to go for it!”
For more tips on how to succeed in the skilled trades, visit career-advice.monster.ca.