Fixing bikes leads to promising career as a Millwright

Kristie Latta was in her second year of fine arts in university when she discovered something unexpected: an interest in the skilled trades. It all began when a professor asked if anyone in her class was interested in welding a sculpture as a project. “I remember thinking – this is so cool!”
However, soon afterward, Latta decided university was not the right fit for her. With a student loan to pay off, she took various jobs to earn a living, including working as a bike messenger.
When her bike required some major repair work, Latta had no money to fix it or to buy a new one. She didn’t know where to turn, until one of her friends suggested the Bike Dump, a local, volunteer-run community project that provides instruction in how to fix and build bikes.
Latta remembers feeling unsure of her skills when it came to working with tools. “I was almost shaking I was so nervous,” she says. But as she gained the skills to fix her own bike, she found that not only was she comfortable working with tools, she was also pretty good at it. “I realized I had a knack for fixing things and wanted to share my experience with others.”
Latta began volunteering at the Bike Dump on women-only nights. It was this experience that made her realize she wanted to focus her career on work in the skilled trades. In September 2013, Latta applied to become a junior technician in the trade of Industrial Mechanic (Millwright) and succeeded in landing the job.
All-encompassing trade
An industrial mechanic – also known as a millwright – installs, tests, removes, repairs and services a wide variety of industrial machinery and equipment. Industrial mechanics also read blueprints, drawings and manuals to determine repairs and work procedures, and perform preventative maintenance.
“It’s an all-encompassing trade where you can specialize in any number of different areas,” explains Latta, adding that she found the prospect of such diversity to be very appealing. Even so, she describes the experience as a roller-coaster.
“There were lots of ups and downs,” she says. “I’ve seen it all; from people believing I was sent to a job site as a practical joke, to doing office filing during slow times. I felt discouraged. I knew I was good at my job, but I kept wondering: am I being given these tasks because I’m a woman?”
At this low point in her career, Latta was invited to the Building Bridges: Women in Non-traditional Trades forum. The experience reminded her of the women-only nights at the Bike Dump and, in the same way, it boosted her confidence. “I had been feeling unsure of my career choice. The forum inspired me to stick with it.”
Gender doesn’t matter
Latta wants to be part of a movement to promote the understanding that gender doesn’t matter when it comes to the skilled trades. “Male or female, we all start at the same place and are put through the motions.”
The main thing is to find out what you are good at, she adds. “Some people are mechanically inclined, others are not. Your own skills may surprise you.”
Latta is aiming to complete her hours as a level one apprentice this summer and then to attend technical training to move up to level two.
Although getting started wasn’t always easy, Latta explains that she would not have been driven to complete her certification without the challenges she faced.
“I definitely had some hurdles to jump, but these hurdles have given me the confidence to know that I can succeed at this career.”
Apprenticeship programs consist of about 80 per cent on-the-job, practical training, and 20 per cent in-school technical training. To find out more about the skilled trades and how you can become an apprentice, visit manitoba.ca/tradecareers.
-Apprenticeship Manitoba

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