26 January 2015

Women make great apprentices, but...

“Pass that wrench to me, Debbie,” my father yelled down as I assisted him when he was repairing the furnace one day. It feels like I started my apprenticeship when I was four!! Truth be told, when girls are raised in families with tradespeople, it is not uncommon for them to learn the language of the industry just by being around it all the time.

The careers we chose (me a mechanic, and my sister and niece cement finishing) were quite natural for us. Women make awesome apprentices, but to become a journeyman, we have to have more than the hours in trade or a slip of paper. To become a functional journeyman, we have to challenge our internal belief systems.

Even after I received my qualification as a certified mechanic, I was quite content to be an apprentice during the work day. After all, it was safe to keep things going as they were. No sense ruffling feathers. The guys didn't mind having us around as much as they resented those women who looked arrogant to us. It wasn't until later that I realized that those women weren't arrogant at all. They were confident in what they did. I wanted to be just like them.

The defining moment for me was when I took the lead on some of those jobs, which was a huge risk - the risk of failure in front of folks who sometimes wanted us to fail. It meant stepping away from the women in our lives who were challenged by non-traditional women. It was a lonely place to be at times. Not quite belonging to the brotherhood, and having less and less in common with the sisterhood.

Where are you in the journey? Have you made that psychological shift yet? That's the real journey for us. Oh, the fun of it all.