Being a “journeyman” in the trades is a title to strive for and be proud of, regardless of gender. As such, it has served as a namesake for the Canadian organization, J♀urneyman, a program that supports and encourages women involvement in the trade industry.
Evonne Edwards does the journeymen proud. Currently working as a safety manager, Edwards began her trades career with Hamilton’s local 736 as an ironworker. Prior to this, Edwards was an esthetician and cosmetologist. When her hands became too irritated by chemicals for her to continue in this field, she jumped at the chance to pursue something she had been fascinated with her whole life.
“My father, brother, brother-in-law and two uncles are ironworkers,” explained Edwards. “It was always something that intrigued me. Dad would bring things home from work (like soap stone, spud and a striker) and I was always interested in them.”
Edwards says that though her father always knew she could do the job, he better understood how tough the industry was. Instead, he tried to get her husband into the field but when he showed no interest, Edwards stepped up to reveal hers.
Many of her female colleagues have experienced discrimination being a woman in the trades and though Edwards has mostly found her male colleagues to be courteous, she hopes to help change the overall perspective and support women who haven’t had an easy transition.
“I’m an upfront person. If I heard that someone was talking about me through the grapevine, I’d approach them. Usually when you stand up for yourself, they respect it.”
The support that she has been shown has particularly helped Edwards in the last two years as she has battled breast cancer. She was able to stay in her trade and contribute in a new way with her work in Corporate Safety and Claims.
With JOurneyman, Edwards goes to local job fairs and high schools to speak with women of all age groups.
These new positions offer Edwards new challenges and experiences and she still looks back on her days as a foreman with pride.
When she crosses the Burlington Skyway and looks over to see U.S.S. Steel and A.M.D. she gets a sense of pride knowing that she stood on the highest peaks of their structures helping maintain and repair them.
Calli Doucette is a third-year apprentice electrician with her local 303 in the Niagara region who said that working with J♀urneyman has so far been the highlight of her career.
“It’s great—the opportunities I’ve been given and the people I’ve been able to help out have been very rewarding,” explained Doucette.
She got involved with J♀urneyman through her union as she was highly interested in helping other girls, especially those in high school, discover the trades as a viable career path. Since then, she has attended events and visited local high schools to spread the word. She has also been interviewed for TV and print articles.
When Doucette was in high school, she didn’t have anyone to talk to about working in the trades, let alone another woman. Nevertheless, for her high school co-op placement, she worked on building a house from start to finish. In this environment, Doucette was exposed to all different kinds of trade work. However, being an electrician “just felt right.”
Working toward this career path since grade 10, Doucette then studied at Sheridan College for a year as a “pre-trade electrician.”
She described her parents as both encouraging and supportive in helping her to achieve her goals. Upon entering the field, she was accepted by her coworkers and was viewed as “one of the boys”.
In her off-hours, she spends her time encouraging other girls who are considering a position in the trades.
“It’s a tough transition,” said Doucette. “But the girls in high school ask really good questions—questions I would’ve asked. It’s almost like I can see a bit of myself in them.”