Michelle Smaglinski
Electrician Apprentice, Electrician Program,
Mohawk College

Natalee Lewis
Project Manager,
Business Development, Skills Canada Plumbing Student, Sheridan College

Liane A. Quevillon
Certified Electrician Professor, 
College Boréal

How has your career choice provided you with opportunities that other industries do not?

Michelle Smaglinski: I feel my choice in selecting a skilled trade has provided me with a fantastic learning experience. It’s a skilled trade that challenges me every day to think on my feet and challenges my train of thought. Through team learning and hands-on development, I have gained invaluable experience and knowledge, resulting in job satisfaction, financial benefits, and other opportunities to improve my skill sets within my job.

Natalee Lewis: Plumbing provides me an opportunity to be an expert in my field. As an undergraduate with a History degree, I was not an expert. History gave me the means to conduct research and communicate effectively, but left me with few employment opportunities. The reality is there is a skilled trades shortage. Also, being a woman provides an opportunity to break new ground in a non-traditional role. 

Liane A. Quevillon: A career in trades has provided me with several opportunities. As I gained experience in the trade, I had the chance to supervise several projects. Now I teach the trade in which I was trained.  The teaching part is very rewarding because it gives me the chance to show other apprentices the knowledge that I have gained over the years and also some tricks of the trade! For a lot of tradespeople it is also the opportunity to travel across the country, especially in the construction sector.

What are some of the skills you will develop in your chosen trade? 

MS: First, and most importantly, being in a trade primarily works on developing your hands-on skills and ability to take direction through working with tools and perfecting speed and accuracy of fine motor skills. Additionally, I feel that my choice in selecting a skilled trade has provided me with opportunities to meet many different and interesting people who have helped to enrich my life in various ways. 

NL: Let’s work backwards. Doctors cure diseases, plumbers prevent them. In order to provide clean, healthy drinking water and proper sanitation, the essential skills I am developing are numeracy through math and measurement, document use by interpreting section 7 of the building code, and understanding and applying advanced plumbing technologies such as piping evolution — we’ve come a long way from lead to pex! 

LAQ: The first skills that come to my mind are communication skills.You have to communicate with co-workers, supervisors, engineers, clients, and now with students. Other skills that you develop: learning to work properly with tools, problem solving, learning new technology, and a chance to innovate in the field you chose. 
"My choice in selecting a skilled trade has provided me with opportunities to meet many different and interesting people who have helped to enrich my life in various ways." 

What advice would you give someone thinking about choosing a career in the trades?

I believe it is very important to challenge yourself academically.  Strive to perfect your learning skills as you will continuously need to hastily develop new strategies as different and newer technologies become available. But I also believe it is important to keep an open mind and take any opportunity you are presented with, even if it’s not exactly what you had planned, because every opportunity offers a chance for growth and experience and shows willingness. Above all though I feel it is immensely important to work hard and stay positive and determined because nothing worth doing is ever easy.

NL: Think big picture. I likely won’t be a residential plumber for the rest of my life. I want to help solve the global sanitation crisis. The trades allow you to blend your passion with your career – the opportunities are as vast as your mind will take you. While you are working on your pipe dream, the job itself pays well, is in demand, and provides great satisfaction.

LAQ: As you start in a trade’s career, you start as an apprentice, the first few years might be challenging but you have to persevere and believed in the trade you chose.  The willingness to learn is also very important because the more you know and the more experience you gain the more valuable you become. Be energetic, have a positive attitude, it will reflect in a positive way on your co-workers and employer’s. Once the training is completed, and you get that ticket, lots of opportunities are available!! It will be worth all the effort you put in during the training phase of your career.

Which sector do you believe has the most growth potential and employment prospects in Ontario?

I believe that all sectors of the electrical field have immense opportunity for growth and job prospects in Ontario in the future. Primarily because of constant changes in technology, I believe that automated systems and commuter technologies in electrical systems will most definitely become more complex. This may therefore produce a larger amount of new job prospects in the future. In addition to solar systems, this would most likely be due to the constant increasing need of new and more efficient energy systems.

NL: Many of the 40-plus trades at the Skills Canada National Competition seem to be in high demand — some more than others, depending on the region in Canada. In Ontario, it’s hard not to notice all of the new infrastructure projects in cities such as Toronto and Ottawa. Such large-scale initiatives will most likely demand skilled labour ranging from welding to plumbing to electrical work, not to mention many other construction-related trades. There seems to be no lack of opportunities in the construction trades in Ontario. 

LAQ: The mining sector in Ontario has the most growth potential — especially with the ring of fire project, the construction sector as some of Ontario infrastructure ages, renewable and green energy projects, just to name a few. All of those employment prospects are mostly geared toward a skill trades sector. This provides lot of possibility for the next generation of skilled workers.

Who had the biggest impact in your decision to pursue the apprenticeship path?

MS: My decision to pursue the apprenticeship path was definitely influenced by several various people and factors. Above all, it was Mr. Radix and Mrs. Steeds — my high school shop and co-op teachers — who first gave me an opportunity to use tools and work within the electrical field. This further helped to expand any ideas or interests I had in the skilled trades and technical environments. Another impact was the support and positivity I received from my friends and family upon explaining my plan to pursue a career in the skilled trades. With a personal determination and the strong female role model of my grandmother (who previously worked with my grandfather in carpentry), I set forth with a goal of becoming an electrician which I am currently vigourously undertaking. 

NL: The Skills Canada National Competition has had the biggest impact. Working in business development for Skills Canada, I’ve been the liaison between partners and skilled tradespeople to develop an interactive activity that anyone can try at the Competition. Over the last few years this allowed me to try over 40 trades. These hands-on activities, combined with witnessing the passion of Canada’s top apprentices compete for gold, was contagious.  I no longer wanted to be on the sidelines; I wanted to be one of them.  

LAQ: Chance! My first career choice was office administrator.  I finished school and got my first job as a part-time office clerk. Considering the fact that I was sitting at a desk for most of the day, I didn’t feel like I was doing something rewarding in that line of work. After a few months, a position became available in the field as an electrical apprentice — that’s where it all started! I love the challenge and the sense of accomplishment that working in the field provided me. The wages were higher and the work was somewhat more stable than office clerk.  I also have to mention my family, which was always supportive of the career choice I made.