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.
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.
Lenard Monkman believes the skilled trades gave him a second chance in life after the challenges he faced through much of his childhood. “I was raised in the North End and grew up on welfare,” he says. “Growing up, I felt the odds were stacked against me.”
With a lot of hard work and determination, Monkman graduated from high school and began studying political sciences at the University of Winnipeg. The first few years of university proved to be difficult and Monkman recalls losing his focus along the way.
“Unfortunately, I started going down a path I tried to avoid my whole life,” he says. “My bad decisions finally caught up with me and so did the law.”
With his hopes for a successful career waning, Monkman felt defeated. During this time, he also found out he had a child on the way. “I didn’t want to be like my own father; I knew my child would need a positive influence in his or her life.”
It was at this point Monkman made a decision to turn his life around and started working for a family friend in the flooring business. “The company I worked for gave me a chance, but I still had to prove myself.”
Monkman attributes learning some important life lessons to his work as a skilled labourer. “I learned the meaning of discipline very fast when I first started the job,” he explains, adding that having to get up every day and show up on time for his job taught him the value of being dependable. “I didn’t know the importance of reliability until I started working full-time.”
While he concedes that his job isn’t always easy, Monkman believes hard work is therapeutic. “Knowing all the work that went into a project from beginning to end, and seeing the completed project, is a huge accomplishment. The sense of pride from completing these projects has kept me interested in working in the skilled trades.”
Historical teaching form
Monkman believes that apprenticeship training is a great fit for many people. He compares the method of learning to Indigenous teachings. “An apprenticeship is based on mentorship-based learning from an ‘elder.’ This form of teaching is historical and needs to be promoted.”
He credits the person who trained him for helping him to turn his life around. “Everyone has to start from the bottom and needs someone to give them a chance.”
He explains that his supervisor wasn’t just his boss but also a mentor who believed in him. “Growing up, I didn’t have these positives influences,” he says.
Monkman didn’t believe he would become a career tradesperson. However, after working for five years in his trade, he believes he can use his story to bring about positive change in his community. He is currently working toward obtaining his Red Seal Certificate of Qualification through the trades qualification process and wants to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of floorcovering installers.
Trades qualification is a process for experienced tradespersons to apply to challenge the certification examination in their trade. Being certified can open up many opportunities and avenues for your career. If you are interested in more information about the apprenticeship and certification system, including the trades qualification process, please visit http://www.manitoba.ca/tradecareers.
Kera Lozier knew from a young age that she wanted to work with her hands. “When I was a kid, I took apart different electronics because I wanted to see how they worked,” she says. “Looking back, I think this is when I first realized I wanted a hands-on career.”
After completing high school, Lozier set her sights on a career as a veterinarian. But after working part-time as a veterinary technician, she soon concluded it was not the right job for her. Her next choice was kinesiology (the study of how the human body moves). “I thought this would fill my need to work in a hands-on environment,” says Lozier.
While waiting for a response from the university, she stumbled upon an apprenticeship handbook. “I flipped through the pages and came across the pre-employment Electrical program at Red River College. That was when a light bulb went off in my head.”
Lozier applied for the program and was accepted. The decision proved to be the first step in a 10-year career journey that has led to ownership of a successful business.
Strength under pressure
Lozier acknowledges that her chosen path was not always easy, but it was one she will never regret. “After I completed the pre-employment program, I struggled. It took me five months to find an employer who would hire me as an apprentice.”
Eventually, Lozier interviewed with a small electrical contracting company. The employer saw her determination and potential and, as a result, she was hired on the spot. She says her work experience with her new employer was always positive, but often challenging.
She was given a lot of responsibility, from helping to plan major electrical projects to organizing all the materials needed for each job. “I really felt I had to prove myself – just as any apprentice has to do – and it was hard work. But I used that pressure as my motivation to succeed.”
After four levels of technical training, Lozier completed her apprenticeship with the same company that originally hired her. “I owe a lot to them for giving me a chance,” she observes.
Lozier eventually decided to invest some time in learning the business side of the electrical trade. “I became interested in compiling estimates and keeping the books,” she remembers.
In February 2012, Lozier received Red Seal certification for the trade of Construction Electrician. That summer, she wrote the City of Winnipeg contractor licence exam.
After obtaining her contractor’s licence, she hit a speed bump in her journey. “I moved to a small town in rural Manitoba and worried that the electrical community didn’t take me seriously,” she recalls. “So I took matters into my own hands.”
Lozier decided to jump to the next step and opened her own business. Since July 2014, she has been the owner of an incorporated company. “It’s everything I expected and more,” she says.
Lozier is excited to see what the future holds but at this point is focused on establishing a name for herself and her company. “I truly believe that choosing a trade opens endless doors of opportunity, and I’m excited to find out where the next part of my journey takes me.”
To learn more about the apprenticeship program or opportunities available for journeypersons, visit http://www.manitoba.ca/tradecareers.
When Paul Robins joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1988 as an airframe technician, little did he know how much the decision would change his life. “I was not an academic,” he explains. “I didn’t know what I was going to do after I finished high school because college and university did not appeal to me.”
That was when Robins decided to enter the military. During a recruitment session, Robins saw video presentations about all the trades training opportunities available to members of the Canadian Armed Forces. The work done on airplanes really sparked his interest.
“I loved airplanes and I’d always had an interest in fixing things. I decided I had finally found my calling,” he says. Robins spent the next 13 years in Cold Lake, Alberta, where he worked primarily in the CF18 shop on flight controls, hydraulic fuel systems and landing gear.
After more than a decade working in the same place, Robins felt he needed a change. He evaluated his skills and knowledge, then decided to switch gears and become a Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic for the armed forces. In 2001, Robins began training at the Canadian Forces School of Military Engineering in Gagetown, New Brunswick.
“That was a huge learning curve for me,” he recalls, adding that the school offered a 10-month course that combined levels one and two of the technical training program required for his new trade of choice.
Following completion of the training, Robins was posted in Winnipeg. He describes his experience working on the base in Winnipeg as “influential.” The wide variety of equipment he encountered ranged anywhere from 1950s vintage to the latest models. “This enabled me to see how equipment has evolved over time,” he says.
Red Seal certificate
After working on the base in Winnipeg for seven years, Robins acquired his military credentials, allowing him to work in his trade anywhere in Canada. He felt, however, that this was not enough. “I didn’t feel that I had completed my journey without receiving a Red Seal certificate,” he says.
Soon afterwards, he saw an advertisement from an employer looking to recruit Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic apprentices. This was Robins’ chance to reach his goal of completing the Red Seal exam to become a certified journeyperson.
“I was a little intimidated to be back at school in my forties,” he notes, “but I’m so glad I put my age aside to complete the course.” In December 2010, Robins received what he describes as “one of the best-ever Christmas presents.” He had passed his Red Seal exam.
On Nov. 7, 2014, the Manitoba government announced a new regulation that removes barriers for military tradespeople to transfer their armed forces experience into well-paying civilian jobs. This pathway will provide the opportunity for veterans who have military credentials in a skilled trade to challenge the Red Seal exam free of charge.
Robins describes this news as monumental. “People in the armed forces do not give themselves enough credit for what they’ve learned during their service,” he says. “This new measure will boost their confidence because it recognizes the value of the skills they’ve acquired and the work they do. I hope that this will prompt other veterans to take the same step I took and write their exam.”
To learn more about the new regulation and how to apply, visit the Apprenticeship Manitoba website at http://www.manitoba.ca/tradecareers.