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Diversifying Canada's Skilled Trades

Advancing Women in Trades Is Good for Everyone

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Katie Hughes_Women in HVAC-R

Katie Hughes

Owner, HVAC Doris

Kelly Burns_Women in HVAC-R

Kelly Burns

VP, Tri-Air

Katie Hughes, Owner of HVAC Doris, and Kelly Burns, VP at Tri-Air, share their insights on making the choice to pursue a career in HVAC-R.

Katie Hughes

I’m a huge advocate of the saying “it’s never too late,” primarily because that’s been a big part of my life so far! I was 24 before I realized that I liked working with tools, and I put that down to not being given the option in my teens. I was about to leave school and embark on my adult life without truly knowing who I was or what I liked doing. Who really knows those things at 16? 

Before this enlightenment, I tried everything from veterinary nurse to retail to the military. Then, at 24, I took a big gamble and sent myself back to school to become a Marine Engineer. Now, at 37, I’ve just finished another term at school to get my Gas Technician License. Every moment in between has been a journey of exploration, both personally and for my career. People often use the term “second career,” but for me, the whole thing has been an adventure, and every different thing I’ve done has been a piece of the jigsaw that makes me who I am.

Unfortunately, I still feel this is the case today with young women. Since becoming an ambassador for Women in HVAC-R Canada, I’ve had the honour of attending an event geared at young people about to embark on the same journey I took all those years ago. Most of them (and their parents) didn’t know what HVAC meant, didn’t know whether they could use tools, and hadn’t been presented with information about the trades as a viable option for them. They approached us with their arms brimming with college and university brochures to ask us many questions. It was great to be able to expose these young adults to the possibility of joining the trades at this crucial stage in their lives where they have some big decisions to make and, hopefully, influence a few of them enough that they’ll consider it! Being in the trades is something to be proud of and can be very lucrative too. With the apprenticeships, you’re getting paid while continuing your development and studies — what university can offer that?

To those of you who, like me, didn’t have this exposure or weren’t given the opportunity in the early days, I say, “it’s never too late!” If you’re curious and interested, that’s enough. Don’t be put off if you’ve never held a screwdriver — you can learn. Don’t be put off if you always struggled with math — you can learn that too (I know because I did!) Don’t be discouraged if you think you’re not physically strong or fit enough. Firstly, you’re more capable than you give yourself credit for and secondly, I’ve seen smaller men do this job, so why not women? Finally, don’t be put off by fear. There’s a very fine line between fear and excitement, but you won’t know which one it is until you take that leap of faith.

Kelly Burns

I feel like we’re finally making some waves, and people are noticing that HVAC-R as an industry is a great career choice among the top-paid skilled trades. Many employers are eager to hire women in the trades, and the government has started offering incentives to employers to hire women in HVAC-R. Now, all we need are women!

We’ve been in business for 42 years and, until this year, had only previously had one female apply, which we hired many years ago. We’re lucky enough to have two women, Shawna and Morgan, on the tools right now!

Getting the word out there that HVACR is a great pathway for our young adults when considering post-secondary options is so important. So just give it a try!

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