Shannon is an Electrical Apprentice with the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 105 located out of Hamilton, Ontario.
In 2017, at only 29 years of age, I realized I did not like my current job. I would come home stressed, did not feel a sense of pride about the work I was doing, and had to fight for .50-cent raises that did not reflect the increase in the cost of living. I enjoyed a few aspects of my job, like training and teaching, but overall, this was not a job that left me fulfilled or able to pay my bills very comfortably. I realized we spend more time at work than we do at home, and I believe it is so important to enjoy what you do. There is no perfect job. However, one that makes you feel proud and happy, is a job that feels more like a hobby than a chore. In addition to mental health and happiness is financial security. I found myself going further into debt each year. I needed to find a job where I could thrive, not just survive. It was during this time that my best friend Matt purchased a house and started home renovations. Together we tore apart and rebuilt a kitchen, and 2 bathrooms and finished a basement that required framing, drywall, mudding, electrical and finishing touches. It was the hours I spent working on this home that ignited my passion for working with my hands. It was the beginning of my new journey.
The first challenge for me was simply finding employment as a woman. When I started my Journey, I heard little back from my attempts for employment. At that time, I even removed items from my resume that showed that I am female such as my education. Another frustration can be jobsite essentials, like, clothing, gloves, and boots, they can be hard to find in the correct sizes. Other obstacles for women include systemic barriers and societal beliefs. There is certainly still gender discrimination, unequal training, and of course, that makes it difficult for women to enter the skilled trades.I have also heard too many times women are not strong enough to work in construction. This statement leads me to believe that the only thing that is valued by these people is the physical strengths someone may possess. I am not going to sugarcoat anything; a construction site is a place for someone able and willing to work hard. However, we need some people with brute strength and some people with small wrists for pot lights. What about the other skills women have been found strong at, such as multi-tasking, communication, organization, etc.? I believe these skills and assets are just as important as physical strength, and I have come to learn there is a place for everyone on the construction site. It’s not always an easy job, but if you have the right attitude, you can be successful and learn to see that having a physical job leads to healthier mental and physical health, all while building your confidence.
I can only hope that there has been some change in accepting women and minorities in the industry. I have not been around long enough to truly know the changes that have occurred. I do believe as a society, more awareness and highlighted the importance of diversity and inclusion. I have learned over the years it is hard to change a person’s perception and beliefs; it is often a conditioned and learned behavior. We have made improvements throughout the years, but there are still many individuals that will never give acceptance to change.
I originally completed a Child and Youth work diploma where I found compassion and understanding for people, along with the challenges of mental health. You can say being an ambassador came naturally to me and has allowed me to combine my passion for people with my new love for the trades. I use my voice, story, and platform to encourage, motivate and inspire change in the industry and the minds of the young and old.
Being a woman in the skilled trades today means that we are still a minority, underestimated and trailblazers for other women to follow. It means you must be strong, self-aware, and realistic that you are still in a man’s world. Actions often speak louder than words and sadly we are frequently judged and held to a different standard, this means we always must work harder than the next! As a woman in constructions be patient and not push change but be an ambassador and advocate for change. Be persistent, be strong and show the young woman of tomorrow that they too can do whatever they desire. Don’t compete with your sisters but lift up and lean on your sisters; remember there is so much room for us all! Reach out and connect with community groups, organizations and make new friends on social media. Chances are high there are other woman just like you wanting and needing to connect and relate!
One of the most important pieces of advice I can give you is your safety is number one!As the newest person on the job site, you are statistically the most likely to get hurt. Always double check everything; do not trust that someone else has ‘made it safe’. Also, some things are outside of your control, as you learn how to use different tools and equipment you also learn the risks involved and how to avoid/prepare for them. For example, when drilling through concrete, you want to be aware of potential rebar that could cause the drill to twist and pull. But what is within your control is PPE. PPE is not effective if it’s not worn properly or not worn at all!It is also good to remember the worksite is your classroom and you have more control of your learning than you know. That is why it is so important to advocate for yourself and your own learning. Practice makes perfect, and it is okay to get placed on the same job for a period of time. However, if you remain doing the same task for months, or even years, it may be time to speak up and ask for something new to learn.Don’t forget at the end of your apprenticeship, you are required to write a test, and getting stuck doing the same thing does not help you prepare for this. You would be surprised how fast the years fly by.
It is obvious that women are a minority in the skilled trades, but what is not so obvious is how this effects the industry, culture, and people everywhere. Every individual, male or female brings a different energy with them that can change the mood of any room; good or bad. I like to talk about how often women can and do change the energy in a room.Several women have told me that they too have seen similar shifts in energy. One woman explained to me, that while working on a predominately male team, that her presence was often requested for a meeting whether she was needed to be there or not.I saw this shift in energy firsthand one day when working on a hotel project. I was in one of the winding hallways, up on a ladder, installing a pot light when I heard a site supervisor approaching. He was mad, and his tone and words told me this before I even saw him. When he turned the corner and saw me standing there his tone immediately cut in half. Nothing else change in the environment but me, and I can’t help but think this was an example of what other woman had been referring too. Men are filled with testosterone and putting all of that under one roof with no sense of balance can have its own consequences. Including women energy on a construction project in show way allows the men to be more vulnerable at times. I am the one of the first people to know when a brother has had a baby, and the only person who still cares to see his beautiful bundle of joy after the first picture. Men often feel needed to fit a certain role when amongst all other men, but this starts to change when women are present. I am not saying men shouldn’t have their men time, and that their can’t and shouldn’t be a boys club, but whatI am saying is it isn’t good for business. I believe everything is better in balance and right now we can all admit that the construction industry is out of balance! Women make up half the population and it is with balance that will come change.
I am sure it would surprise many that I struggle with social anxiety and depression. To this day I find myself taking care of others, to cope and heal myself. Many may not know that I completed a Child and Youth Work diploma when I was in my early twenties. I have worked with many people with a wide range of mental health, including children with developmental disabilities, and homeless youth in a shelter. I have often heard people use the term ‘wounded healers’ to describe people like me. They call us this because we didn’t have the help we needed growing up, and we now want to be there for others. I found this quite typical amongst my classmates and colleagues, and although CYW was not for me long term, I often look back and think of my college life like three years of counseling and self-discovery. I am grateful for this experience.
In my spare time I enjoy exploring nature by land or water. Hiking, camping, and kayaking are a few of my favorite things. I love to be floating down stream, sun out, and with great company while enjoying the gifts nature brings that day. My favorite moments are when animals trust you enough to let you be part of their world. I have been blessed to have many amazing memories with beavers, eagles and more. I love the peace and quiet found amongst the forest, and the cracking of the fire beneath the stars. When not exploring nature you can find me on a Road trip exploring Ontario’s small towns, or relaxing on the beaches of Lake Erie or Huron. Puzzles, board games, and gardening are all small joys of mine.
I genuinely love my job, and being an Electrical Apprentice keeps my physically, and mentally healthy, all while helping me stay financially secure. I feel challenged, engaged, and proud of the work I do. There is an amazing sense of pride and accomplishment you get when you finish a project and can say; I built that. I now have the confidence, I didn’t have before to take on different at home projects and repair. During COVID-19 I have learned how to change my car oil, spark plugs, filters, and breaks. This has allowed me to save a few bucks while using higher quality products and filters than what is typically used at a random shop. I am not afraid to pick up a new tool and try something different, and this has helped increased my self confidence and self-esteem. No two projects are100% alike in the trades and inevitably I learn something new almost every day I go to work. Because of this I have developed the courage to try new things, fall, stand back up, and repeat until success; confidence is built by competence and this is the formula.Nothing feels better than being able to say, I helped build that!!!! Being in the skilled trades means I get paid well, all while getting a healthy day’s exercise. Exercise is so important for both the physical and mental health of humans, and it is a natural benefit of the skilled trades.
I want to celebrate and acknowledge the women who came before me making it possible for me to consider a job in the skilled trades, and to celebrate all the current women who are curious enough to take on a predominately male industry. I want to celebrate all women out there brave enough to step up and show up every day despite the challenges and struggles you have and do face. I celebrate you and all the successes you have had, big or small to get you where you are today!! Remember, you are not alone, you are strong, resilient, and deserving you all are my role models!
I find myself curious in learning, and on a construction site intrigued by the other trades around me. I have said before the reason I chose Electrical was due to lack of opportunity, education, and awareness of the different trades available. If I were to have had more opportunities to try different trades, and more doors were open I may have pursued a different trade. However, I am fascinated with the flow of electrons which makes electricity, as it gives me faith in my own spirituality. You can't see the electrons flow, and yet they do giving us power and so many other amazing things.
I have found my audience resonates most with posts about education, and women in construction. I get many messages from fathers telling me about their daughters and how they show my posts to them to encourage and inspire. I have learnt many years ago through schooling, observation, and my own experiences, that we are often a product of our environment. Starting at a young age we are conditioned with beliefs due to media, family, school, society etc. For example, the Nursery Rhyme “I am a little tea pot” a favorite for so many young girls, describes a traditional role that women at one point in time would have been responsible for. Our young girls are flooded with princesses, dresses and dolls that can sometimes limit their future ambition. As a little girl we see so few women in non-traditional roles that it quickly becomes the norm, or the expected for so many. By having conversations with both young boys and girls about how everyone has different strengths to bring to the table, we can start eliminating the conditioning that limits so many young people. If you can see it, you can be it, and through education we can start to empower the next generation!
For so many people, 2022 was a long and hard year! It seems despite all the technology, privileges, and advancements in the world, as human beings, we are still struggling with challenges that hinder us from reaching our greatest potential.