Bricklaying: lay the foundation to your future

Nina Widmer has become the first female bricklayer in Manitoba.
Nina Widmer has become the first female bricklayer in Manitoba.

When Nina Widmer decided to go into masonry – also known as bricklaying – she didn’t realize she would become a role model for females across the province.
But between her talent and the fact that she is the first female bricklayer apprentice in Manitoba, Widmer is hard to miss.
After completing her compulsory high school credits, Widmer began the High School Apprenticeship Program in Grade 12, earning her remaining high school credits while working as a bricklayer apprentice at Alpha Masonry. Now a certified journeyperson, Widmer completed her apprenticeship at the top of her class.
“It was really great for me to be able to get a head start,” she says. “I liked the idea that unlike going to school for a degree, you’re making money right away, and then you finish and get your ticket and you don’t have to worry about: ‘Okay, now who’s going to hire me?’”
Bricklaying basics
“It’s the trades that grow cities. Without the trades, you wouldn’t have the building, the plumbing, the heating, the electrical. You wouldn’t have a place to live or to go to work,” Widmer says.
“With bricklaying, you know that your work is going to be there for 100 years.”
Bricklayers work on commercial and residential projects where they lay bricks, block stone, glass block or terra cotta to build interior and exterior walls, partitions, fireplaces, chimneys, smokestacks and other structures.
“It is dirty work, but hey, we all loved to play in the mud when we were kids, why should that change?” Widmer says. “I love the fact that I’m able to work with my hands and be creative. It’s an incredible feeling to take a step back and physically see what I did with my day and see what I accomplished.”
A bricklayer apprenticeship consists of three levels, and generally takes about three years to complete. Bricklayer apprentices learn skills on-the-job with an employer while getting paid and earning hours toward their apprenticeship. They also attend technical in-school training for six to nine weeks per level.
Building opportunity
“When I was a kid, I wasn’t dreaming about my wedding or having babies. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things, but I was just too busy building little houses for my guinea pigs!” she laughs.
But Widmer says she isn’t looking for any special treatment in a male-dominated trade. “I just want to be treated like every other worker and help the job get done,” she says. “I love the fact that I can get up every day, grab my coffee, put my hair in a ponytail and start my day. No one is judging my work based on my outfit or how I look, they’re judging it based on my skills, my knowledge and my abilities.”
That said, Widmer hopes to encourage other women to consider the trades. “I didn’t get into the trades because I wanted to do something different as a female; I got into it because I love it. But if I have the opportunity to inspire someone to do the same, then why not?” she says.
“I truly believe that everybody has the potential to learn a skill. You shouldn’t let what anyone says or thinks or feels hold you back. Everyone should have the same opportunities to do what they want to do, and to be self-sufficient,” she says.
“If you’re not so sure about being a suit-and-tie person, there are lots of options out there. People need to start understanding that the trades are a great career.”
-Apprenticeship Manitoba

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