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Which trade is right for you?
Which trade is right for you?
If you are considering a career in the skilled trades, but you have no idea which trade may be right for you – you are not alone. Many people who consider a career in the skilled trades would like to work with their hands, work outside of an office environment, or work to create something. The only problem is that they have difficulty identifying exactly which trade — among over 200 possible trades — would best suit them. So where do you begin?
Valerie Overend is a Red Seal journeyperson carpenter and the Executive Director of Saskatchewan Women in Trades & Technology (Sask WITT). She also works as a WITT facilitator at the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology and represents women on the Board of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum — Forum canadien sur l’apprentissage. Valerie counsels young people, especially girls and women, about careers that might be right for them. She also helps them to discover the many rewarding careers that the skilled trades offer. We asked Valerie to share with us the most important tips she shares with the people she regularly counsels.
Figure out what naturally appeals to you
“I tell people to look at their own strengths, skills and abilities when they’re making their career choices, because that’s how they’re going to find satisfying careers. I work with them to help them listen to their own messages: ‘What is it that you want to do?’, ‘What are you able to do?’, ‘What makes you happy?’, ‘What satisfies you?’ This is where you’ll find ultimate satisfaction.” Although you may be constantly bombarded with well-meaning suggestions from your parents, family members or friends, listen to yourself. In the end, you — not they — will be doing the work, so why not do work that pleases you?
Make three lists
“I ask people to make three lists: What do you really want in a career? What don’t you want? and What’s negotiable? ‘Negotiable’ might be something like ‘where do you want to train?’, ‘in what location?’, ‘are you willing to travel or do you need to stay in the same city?’ And some people say ‘Well, I can travel within the province, but I don’t want to leave the province’. ”
Consider a wide range of trades
Next, log onto the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum — Forum canadien sur l’apprentissage’s one-stop source of apprenticeship information at: www.apprenticetrades.ca. Here you will find an “Information Finder” searchable database with over 6,000 links. It is a catalogue of information about over 200 skilled trades in Canada, all of which have been grouped into approximately 12 categories (depending upon your province/territory). The Information Finder includes information taken from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC)’s National Occupational Classification system (NOC). The NOC is a catalogue of information which describes the work involved in over 520 occupations in Canada.
Narrow your choices down to 5 or fewer trades
If you are interested in a career in the trades, the Information Finder helps you to focus specifically on skilled trades occupations. Using the first three drop-down menus of the Information Finder, simply select the province/territory where you wish to work at your skilled trade; then select a trade category; and browse all of the trades related to that category. When you have found a trade that interests you, select it, hit the “Submit” button, and read more information about that trade. Eliminate all of the trade categories or trades that do not interest you. Valerie usually recommends that her clients narrow down their choices to no more than 5 trades. Using your own three lists as a reminder of what is important to you, eliminate the remaining trades that no longer interest you. And don’t stop there.
Observe a trade or take an exploratory trades workshop
“Realistically I don’t think people can make a decision based on written information from a website but I think they can narrow it down in some way…” suggests Valerie. To get a more real-world feel for the trade, spend some time observing a training program at a technical institute or ask tradespeople about their trade. She also thinks it’s a good idea to observe the workplace of a family member or friend who is a tradesperson. “Typically people explore some trades because their neighbors are in that profession and they might want to do it, so I suggest to them to ask them to go and work with them for a day. That helps a lot.”
“I also run exploratory trades and engineering extension classes. They are for all those women who call me and say, ‘I want to go into a trade’. And if I ran them every day of the week I’d tell everyone to take them, but I only do them twice a year. They’re 36 hour exploratory courses, usually 2 nights a week in a machine shop, 2 nights in a welding shop, 2 nights in automotive, 2 nights in carpentry; you get a taste of them all. During those programs I hire different instructors who work in those occupations to work with me, and we take women into the machine shop and we put them on tools and say “here, try this’ or “make this’. If only everybody would do that — guys too — choosing an occupation would be much easier.”
“We have people who sign up for automotive and they may be on a wait list for 2 years, and on the first day of class they come out after waiting and getting their student loans in order, maybe moving to town, and they say ‘I have a headache, there’s fumes in there’. I don’t want people to get into that course without knowing that there are fumes in there. There are so many environmental concerns — maybe noise, maybe lighting — where people have sensitivities. Maybe they’re afraid of fire; well they should not be welding. Afraid of heights; they shouldn’t be a scaffolder. With this exploratory course they’ll find out quickly that this may be another trade to eliminate. Just as quickly, they may find out that they have an affinity for a certain trade.”
Talk to people like you who work in the trade
Furthermore, Valerie has advice for women: “If they’re women, they should talk to women in their trade. If you talk to, say, my colleague Ron about being a Pipefitter, you’re not going to hear what you’d hear if you talked to my friend Rhealene. You’re going to see a difference in gender perception. And then in each community, depending on the dynamics, you’ve got different resources. You want to talk to like-minded people. I give people names of women from Sask WITT because that’s one of the things we do. I’ll say, ‘Yeah, I know a couple machinists’ and I’ll put them in contact. I don’t tell females not to talk to men; I’ll just say to talk to women also”.
Become more assertive
Finally, we asked Valerie whether or not there is anything ‘extra’ that a woman may need to learn or do in order to be able to cope with working in a predominantly male environment? “The most important thing, out of everything, is they have to learn not to take the joking personally. There’s always this edge of teasing. It’s all done in good fun. They all know it; it’s just that for new women that go there, unless someone tells them, they don’t know how to interpret it. The best way to cope is to assume that none of the jabs are personal, they are a normal part of a male work environment.”
Once you finally decide upon the trade that you would like to learn, you will be starting along the path to becoming a fully-qualified tradesperson. You will find an employer to hire you as an apprentice, complete your apprenticeship training period, and pass your certification examinations. And it doesn’t stop there. Certification in your trade can open up doors to a career as a supervisor, manager, or even as an entrepreneur. A world of opportunity awaits you.