Jamie the Welder

#WomenofSteel Interview with Jamie McMillan

1. How did you first get involved with this industry?
In my mid-twenties, I was struggling to make ends meet. I was working as a part-time Personal Support Worker and picking up extra shifts at a local restaurant. I was unhappy and desperate to find a successful career that offered financial stability. One uneventful day, while walking to purchase some groceries, I ran into an old high school classmate. Over a quick curbside catch-up, she told me of her pathway through an "earn while you learn" apprenticeship. I was intrigued and after researching the program, I also ended up applying for the program. Not long after, I began my Ironworker apprenticeship.

2. What education program did you attend?
Once I began my apprenticeship, I completed the basic orientation and safety certifications provided by my union that were required. Over the next few years I completed a 6000-hour apprenticeship program which included 3 short 7-week terms of trade school. In the mornings, we would focus on theory and math while in the afternoon, we concentrated on practical hands-on learning in the shop. We learned how to weld, fabricate, tie knots, and do many different things that were applicable to an ironworker career.

3. What has been one of your best memories/experiences while working in this industry?
I've had a lot of great memories from my very first job. I’ve met so many amazing workers and have often been one of the few women on a work site. Many of my mentors have been the men who trained me on how to become a proud and competent tradeswoman. We have fun at work; it's a place where you will spend one-third of your life so it should be enjoyable otherwise what's the purpose of working other than to pay bills? Some of my best memories come from travelling across the country, working in many different sectors like the oil sands, mines, steel mills, hydro plants to name a few. One of my favorite jobs to date was working on contract for Hydro One coating transmission towers. We spent everyday in the hot sun up on the towers in the fresh air; it was amazing and a great opportunity.

4. What is your favourite thing about working in this industry?
I love my career for many reasons. It has offered financial stability, independence and the freedom to travel for work across the country. It keeps my physically and mentally engaged and I have worked with so many wonderful people from all over the world. The different people that I meet; there is so much diversity in the trades especially when you travel across the country for different jobs. I like the fact that you're learning something new every day; it never gets old. You go from job to job so you're working on different things all the time and it's not the same repetitive, boring thing all the time. It's fascinating that you get to be part of building these structures and bridges across the country as well. I get to build something and go back to it years later and say I had a part of the structural integrity of this building. It's a pretty neat feeling to know that these buildings are going to live probably centuries past what I will and they'll still be standing and I worked on them.

5. Tell us one fun fact about yourself. 
As a kid, my mother told me that everyone in my family was short because they drank coffee. I was the only one in my family that did not drink coffee and I am the tallest. PS: I drink coffee now.

6. As a woman in the trades, have you ever faced discrimination?
I've spent the past 16 years working as an ironworker in the trade. There have definitely been male counterparts that have given me a hard time. When I first started, they didn't believe that I could be in the industry. In fact, I was once told I was too pretty to make it in the industry. I have often made it a point to tell my coworker and management that I expect to be treated the same as the men. I don’t expect any special treatment because I am a woman. It is important to that I be seen as an equal, therefore I take great pride in the work I do. I want to prove that I have a great work ethic and attitude. There will always be challenges in all workplaces therefore I feel that discrimination is in all workplaces and environments. One hard lesson I have learned is that you can’t please everyone. I've learned to smile in the face of adversity and live by the motto that success is the best revenge. I no longer waste energy getting upset with those that have issues with me.  The best way to prove your worth is to look past the negative and use it as your drive to be positive and successful. At the end of the day the work you do will speak for itself.

7. Do you find that as time goes on, employers more open to hiring women?
I am seeing more women in the industry right now. But I don't know if the actual percentage of women is going up at this time. I know a lot women are entering into the trades however retention is an issue. Recruitment is easy. Who doesn't want to get paid to learn? Who doesn't want to make great wages with the ability to work anywhere in the world? However, in contract construction we are constantly working ourselves out of a job. Often our dispatch systems do not get executed well because employers name hire or some workers are favored over others and are sent out regularly. In some cases, dispatch systems are not transparent and members eventually give up and find employment elsewhere if they are not dispatched. If they are not working they cannot pay their bills, maintain their pension, and benefit hours. Another retention issue is that work may not always be local. The need to travel across the country for work can often become problematic for those with family obligations especially for young women beginning a family. Some employers do not want to have women working in trades when they are pregnant. 

8. What would your message be to women going into the trades?
Trades are a smart and savvy choice. By that I mean they are a great way to work with your hands, build things that will make you feel proud and empowered. Skilled trades have amazing wage packages that can provide a very comfortable living and the independence to afford a wonderful lifestyle. There are endless opportunities to advance in the industry and several pathways within to alternate pathways that can lead to management roles including safety, inspection, planning estimating and many others including the potential to become a successful business owner yourself.

Trades simply rock!