Nicole the Welder

#WomenofSteel Interview with Nicole LeClair

Nicole the Welder

 

What education program did you attend?

After taking an oxy-fuel night class at Algonquin College in my hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, it was enough to “spark” my interest and move to Sudbury where I took a Welder/Fitter program in 1998 at Cambrian College. Graduating at

the top of my class, it was brought to my attention that it might be advantageous for me to take the Welding Engineering Technology program at Conestoga College which I did!Many years later, I also got certified as a Level 1

Visual Welding Inspector with the Canadian Welding Bureau and I’m also currently pursuing my certification of qualification through the Ontario College of Trades. Lifelong learner!

How did you first get involved with the

welding industry?

It was certainly not a clear path that I walked to get to where I am today. After high school, I went to University seeing as that’s just what seemed to be expected at the time so I applied

without much consideration to the trades. I think I lasted about three months before deciding to quit and to avoid wasting more of my parents’ money! I worked for a while and bought my

first car and tried to do some soul-searching as to where I could see myself working, and what made me happy. I had always liked working with my hands and finding out how

things worked and why. This led me to think of the trades and I certainly enjoyed the auto shop class I’d taken in high school, so I started thinking of various trades and which one I could

most see myself doing. Although people joke around with me about watching the 1980s movie, Flashdance one too many times, it is NOT in fact why I took up welding! The thought of fusing two pieces of

metal together forever seemed powerful and rewarding to me - and like I’d be a part of something permanent that I made! This is what led me to try the night class and I just loved it. It all started from there and then

one welding course led to another which led to another! The rest, as they say, is history.

 

What has been one of your best memories/

experiences while working in this industry?

Aside from the immense feeling of pride as I walked across the red carpet on graduation day, I’d say that a great memory would be when I worked for a welding distributor covering a large territory and when my

territory changed, I had many clients who resisted switching to a different rep seeing as they enjoyed my service and expertise. It was very flattering, as I always said that I was more accountable to my clients

than anyone else! Receiving a “Top 20 under 40” award was a great experience, as was speaking to a room of 700 students to share my story and hopefully inspire young women to consider the trades through

the “Women as Career Coaches” program through the Halton Industry Education Council. Early in my career, I won a sales award out of all salespeople on the Ontario team. I happened to be the only woman

and I don’t think they were counting on me winning as the prize was a men’s golf driver- which I exchanged for a women’s! Getting to leave my job as a salesperson, only gave way for me to fully live out my dream of

being an educator and being employed at Mohawk College now. It has honestly been one of my best experiences (so far) in this industry; being allowed to share my passion for the trade to the welders of tomorrow.

Wait- did you say to just share ONE memorable experience? Almost impossible- what an amazing and rewarding career one can enjoy in the trades!

 

What is your favourite thing about working in

this industry?

I never was much of a “girly girl”, so I must say that getting to go to work with a ponytail and overalls, with some steel toes to match is my kind of dress code! I think it’s hard to pinpoint my most favourite thing, but

I think it would probably be the problem-solving skills that I get to use on a daily basis and the satisfaction it brings to me when I can figure out the challenges that can arise in welding projects. Welding has many,

many variables that are at play and changing only one aspect can have a major effect on the weld. I like to get it “just right” and work on my skills and technique

at every opportunity. When a student has difficulty performing a particular weld, but then later I see major improvements after I helped them or did a demo for them, is such a satisfying feeling to know that my skills

have helped them learn to be a better welder. I am reminded time and again as to why I do what I do when I get positive reinforcement from my students!

Tell us one fun fact about yourself.

Even back in 1998 when I was taking my Welder/ Fitter course in Sudbury, I must’ve known deep down that I was destined to be an educator 18 years later! I say this because I would constantly tease my welding

teacher, telling him that I was going to move back to Sudbury when he retired and take over his job! I find it funny that I ultimately DID become a college welding teacher and I think of him regularly and wish he knew

what became of me.

 

 Have you ever felt any discrimination in

the industry?

In general, I haven’t had too many terrible experiences. You have to be fairly thick-skinned and let things roll of your back because you’re going into the industry knowing that you’re going to be a minority. In school,

when I was in the Welder/Fitter program, I was one of two girls out of 65 people. In this program, I had someone steal my shoes or sometimes make fun of my helmet. Nothing that was really detrimental but in the

end, I got the last laugh because I wound up graduating second highest out of those 65 people. Because of that, I was approached to do the Welding Engineering Technology Program which I also completed. Once I

started working in the field, I was hired by a distributor for 14 and a half years, covering a large territory, going into various companies that used welding equipment and gases and helping them with their procedures.

Basically, if I was to tell you how I was treated because I was a woman, I would say that a lot of the times I would walk through a shop and there’d be comments made and I’d pretend that I didn’t hear them and keep

going. However, the longer I was in the industry and the more confidence I built up, I would stop and turn around and say “What was that? What did you say? Do you want to repeat that?” and I would put them

on the spot. I find that men in groups are really tough but individually, they would never isolate you to say something rude. Once I walked through a shop and it was loud, noisy and dirty and something highly

inappropriate was said to me. I didn’t even know how to react because I didn’t know who said it. I told the foreman about it, he apologized on their behalf and said that he would talk to them but I don’t know

what transpired from that talk. Now, for the most part, I try to not let it bother me because you’re living for yourself and not for anyone else and if that’s your passion and it makes you happy, then

I feel like if you keep your head up and do good work, you will get respected in the field. At the end of the day, employers want people who do good work and get the job done in a safe and timely manner

and if it’s a girl that does that, then hire the girl! If the discrimination had escalated or gotten more serious, I would have alerted somebody and taken the appropriate steps but for the level that I was dealing

with, I felt like I could handle it on my own.

 

Do you think employers are more open to

hiring women?

Absolutely. I find that more and more women are getting into the trades, which is great. I surely hope that they're not hiring women because they need a certain amount of each minority, but

rather because they're the best person for the job and NOT because they need to fill a quota! That’s why I feel that women in the trades have to work extra hard sometimes to

prove themselves to not just be amongst the average, but to stand out and be even better to prove themselves as hard workers so that they do get chosen

without any doubt that it’s because of their ability. I would like to think it is what’s happening because there are more women getting into the trades. I always

say that we’re just people trying to do a job; a girl’s got to make a living just like everybody else.

 

 What would your message be to women

thinking about getting into the trades?

Just give it a try. If you’re at the age that you’re still in high school, try it because you won’t know until you do. If you’re thinking of exploring the option at the post-secondary level, you can do what I did. Before

I went into a full-time program, I took a night class. I discovered that I really liked it, and it was enough for me to drop everything and move to Sudbury for the Welder/Fitter program. Also, try to surround yourself

with supportive people and if you can find a mentor, it can be very important to have one. Recently, a teacher at another college told me that a female student was harassed in class.

The male students made things very hard for her and bullied her until she ended up dropping out. I gave the teacher my card, and told her that if she’s talking to this person, to please give

her my card. I wanted to reach out to her and tell her that not all work environments are like this. Sometimes it takes one person to reach out and show they care. I hope I hear from her because

sometimes I feel like it’s that one gesture that can change a person’s outlook; just to know that they’re not alone because there are other women that went through this. I always tell people that they shouldn’t

be afraid to fail because you may not be good at it right away. It’s a skill that needs practice and doesn’t come easily. Like they say, skilled labour isn’t cheap and cheap labour isn’t skilled. It is a good skill to

have and you have to work your butt off; there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears but you have to persevere. Ignore the people that want to put you down and stay focused on your path.

 

 Are you working on any passion projects at

the moment?

Just recently, I have announced the fact that I established "The Nicole LeClair Welding Bursary Award". I will make my first grant next fall. I feel like I have come full circle in the welding community where I’ve put my time in, worked hard, had various jobs and now I’m an instructor and that’s where I feel the

most comfortable because I feel like I’m giving back. I’m trying to translate my passion to the future welders of tomorrow. There is big need for welders in the coming years due to many baby boomers retiring and my bursary was made in an effort to help close the

gap by helping one student per year pursue welding at the post-secondary level in Ontario. This is for private or public post-secondary educational establishments and I intend to make the payment to the institution on the recipient’s behalf. The CWB

Welding Foundation is helping me administer the award and it will be on the website once I complete the application process. It is through Charitable Gift Funds Canada in combination with RBC.