12

Feb

2021

Kate Campbell

How did you get into the trades? (The Long Answer)

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by kate-campbell

This question is – without a doubt – the most commonly asked question I get. We still live in a day and age where it’s unusual to see a woman wearing a tool belt. Women are severely under represented in the male-dominated skilled trades sector.

As quoted from a recent Macleans article, “women’s representation in many trades, including automotive service technician, electrician and carpenter, is less than five per cent. (The numbers are even smaller when it comes to women of colour. The same CAF-FCA report says, “nearly half of Red Seal trades have no visible minority women, and the other half only between one and 12 per cent.”)

It’s no wonder that it’s a little shocking to see a woman walking into a job site – let alone running the job site, owning the contracting company, hopping on the tools and purchasing and working on her own houses. But it took me 15 years to get to this place and I had to start somewhere.

This is where my story begins.

I think it’s important to note that there is a short answer. I went to an all women trade school. Full stop. But we all have so many different factors at play in our lives that I believe the whole story is just as important as the short answer.

For as long as I can remember I have been an active person. I love sports and play. Growing up I was incredibly blessed to have a diverse array of activities at my fingertips. I participated in gymnastics, dance, baseball, soccer and took riding lessons.

Reflecting on this and the question of how I got into the trades, it was actually a conversation with my mom where something interesting came up. She mentioned to me, “You know Kate, you didn’t just want to play baseball as a young girl, you wanted to play hardball, with the boys”

kate's baseball picture

 

So like the good supportive parents that they are, they signed me up! She went on to talk about how the first time I walked onto the baseball field, the boys on my team wouldn’t throw the ball with me. And how I sat on one end of the bench and all the boys sat on the other. She mentioned a blissful ignorance of the fact that I wasn’t completely accepted by the team because I was a girl. It wasn’t until I stepped up to the plate and my team realized I could actually hit that they gave me a chance. (and for the sake of the story I always say that I hit a home run, but in reality I probably just held my own, running around the bases with a huge smile on my face). In time I proved myself and was finally looked on as part of the team. She continued to say, “And Kate, you did this year after year, new team after new team, proving yourself and holding your own in a world full of boys”

kate's baseball picture

 

It’s always interesting to look back on certain moments in our life with a different lens, isn’t it?

Fast forward to high school where the pressure really starts to mount on students to choose their career path. I was an academic student, taking all university courses based on the fact that I was told that was what I was supposed to do. But this is where I really started to get confused. I was being told I needed to go to university to be successful, but I didn’t want to just go to university, well, because?

So I did what most students do when they need help. I sought out guidance from my school’s guidance counselor. By this time I was in Grade 12 and apparently really needed to figure out my life path. The interesting dilemma was that I walked into the guidance office and immediately noticed that my transcript was out on the desk. Even though I mentioned that the only thing I knew was that I didn’t want to sit behind a desk for the rest of my life and that I loved being active, the question wasn’t, “Kate, what do you love to do? What would light you up inside?” It was, “Kate, you’re graduating with a 92% academic average, what university will you be going to?”

kate's high school picture

 

I was so lost and this meeting didn’t help so I did the only thing I thought I had to do. I applied. I applied to five schools and was very fortunate to be accepted to all of them, WITH academic scholarships. I remember clearly, sitting at my kitchen table talking with my parents and feeling so conflicted. I had the opportunity in front of me to go to university, ‘the path to success’ that is prescribed to every student. And I didn’t want it. I couldn’t just go because I was supposed to. I remember voicing these concerns to my entrepreneurial parents. My dad had never gone to school, college or university, yet built and owned several businesses over the years and had had success in his own right. My mom on the other hand, had gone to university but hadn’t pursued her chosen program after graduation. It was at this time that my parents gave me one of the biggest gifts a parent could ever bestow on their child, the gift of unconditional support no matter the choice. I clearly remember my parents saying to me,

“Kate, we believe in you, we’re proud of you and will support you no matter what you choose. You don’t have to go to university to be successful, you need to find something you love doing”

In hearing those words I felt like there was a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. In that moment I decided that I wasn’t going to go to university. I was going to TRAVEL! (I’m not sure if my parents were, in fact, completely 100% supportive of their teenaged girl leaving for four months to backpack around Australia and New Zealand, but they put on a really brave front)

Whenever someone asks me how I gain clarity in my life, one of the main things I always reference is my love of travel. I love it for so many different reasons; the fact that it expands your world view, it grounds you, it introduces you to different ways of living and people of all walks of life. Travelling at this point in my life was formative because I realized that there were so many different paths I could walk down in my own life. Although I was hearing a lot of “What do you mean you’re not going to university!?” from well-intentioned people who were close to me, I now knew that, just because the society I lived in was telling me I ‘had’ to do something, didn’t mean I actually did ‘have’ to.

I came home a different person. Full of life and enthusiasm. I had done a lot of reflecting as I travelled. I always thought my dream job would be a National Geographic photojournalist. It combined three things that I loved. Travel, taking pictures and writing, so I applied and was accepted to college for photojournalism in Alberta, half way across the country (I live in Ontario, Canada).

As fate would have it, a couple of months before I was supposed to pack up my bags and head out west, I had an extremely bad horseback riding accident where I basically ‘90 degreed’ my femur (you know it’s bad when the paramedic cries), which resulted in an emergency surgery, a metal rod from my hip to my knee and multiple pins, bed rest for a month and learning to walk again over the next year.

If you know me (and my parents definitely know this) I’m also very stubborn, so I was determined to still move to Alberta and start my program. I packed up everything (read: my mom packed up everything as I sat and watched helplessly) and we flew across the country to move me into my dorm room. Everything was challenging. I was given the ground floor of my dorm but hobbling around campus on crutches in the winter, with my books, laptop and camera gear proved extremely challenging and painful. I wasn’t in a good place mentally and was on pain killers to get through the day. I was away from friends and family and after a couple of months I realized that it just wasn’t a good time in my life and that maybe, although I enjoyed all of these things individually, it wasn’t meant to be my career.

Kate Campbell

 

I packed everything back up, tail between my broken leg(s) and headed back to Ontario. Now not only had I chosen to not go to University like all of my friends had done and as I was told I ‘should’…I was also a college dropout. To say that I felt broken and lost was an understatement.

Fast forward a couple of months and I was back home, sitting at the same kitchen table where my parents had let me know that I had their unconditional support no matter what. My mom slid a newspaper article across the table to me, casually mentioning that she thought this course would be something that would be really appealing to me. It was an article advertising a Women In Skilled Trades course offered out of The Centre for Skilled Trades in Burlington, Ontario. It was a three month pre-apprenticeship program introducing 20 lucky applicants to the world of skilled trades, including carpentry, electrical, plumbing, fine carpentry and building code while also offering support with employability and workplace preparation, aimed at helping women feel comfortable in male-dominated work environments. It was also a fully paid program supported by the Government of Ontario in an effort to encourage more women to enter the trades.

Initially, I have to admit, I was a little hesitant because I had never considered a career path in the trades, because it had never been presented to me as a viable career path. But something clicked in my mind as I thought it through. I would be working with my hands, I would be active daily (and after having broken my leg and having the ability to walk taken away from me, this was of utmost importance), I would be challenged constantly and I would have opportunities to learn the basics but also to upgrade my skills until I was able to start my own company, if I wanted. Last but not least, I thought, even if I don’t want to pursue a career, I do want to own a home one day and would prefer knowing how to do things for myself instead of relying on someone else to do it for me. I was sold. There were over 200 applicants for the prestigious 20 spots. I consider myself very blessed to have been chosen as one of the women accepted into the program.

I can still remember my first week. Filling my tool belt with my new tools. Getting a new pair of work boots and using a circular saw for the first time. I. Was. Hooked.

That program allowed my confidence to grow amidst the loving support of 19 other women who were equally as enthralled with the work but intimidated at the idea of entering a workforce of mainly men. That course was my safe haven to learn as much as I could before I took my first shaky steps onto a real job site. Unlike the blissful ignorance I had as a girl playing baseball, I knew entering the skilled trades’ workforce would have its challenges. I knew I would stand out. But I also knew, from the moment that I picked up that saw and built a wall for the first time, that I had found something that I was passionate about and that it was worth it.

I was fortunate to have that Skilled Trades course under my belt (pun intended) because it really did help me get my boot in the door in the “real world”. I wasn’t walking onto a job site blind. I had skills – I knew how to use tools – so for any young girl or woman who is thinking about entering the trades, it is my hope that you also have access to a course. I love that mine was all women, but not everyone is that lucky.

I don’t know if I would have ever found myself in the trades if it weren’t for my parent’s encouragement and the WIST course. I believe everything happens for a reason and every single step leading to that moment contributed to my decision to enter the trades. And that’s why I like to tell the whole story.

Love and Light,
Kate


It is a tragedy of the first magnitude that millions of people have ceased to use their hands as hands. Nature has bestowed upon us this great gift which is our hands. If the craze for machinery method continues, it is highly likely that a time will come when we shall be so incapacitated and weak that we shall begin to curse ourselves for having forgotten the use of the living machines given to us by God. -Mahatma Gandhi

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