STAFF WRITER – The Ontario Construction Report Special Feature
Overwhelmed by all of the options during high school, Nadine Noble tried a variety of classes, including machine shop, automotive and welding. Later, she also tried a variety of jobs before deciding to return to school. Today she is a journeyman electrician.
Noble says she hasn’t looked back since she enrolled in an electrical engineering technical program and then began to work in electrical construction and maintenance. “Starting out in any trade is always scary at the best of times and fun and exciting on the other hand.”
She says as a green apprentice it is expected there will be some amazing and some not so amazing mentors. It is the responsibility of an apprentice, she says, to make the best of every moment of time in the field and to stick close to those who teach and provide encouragement.
“I have had some wonderful mentors along the way who took the time to slow down and make sure I understood the work we were doing,” she said. “I will always remember those guys the most.”
She says she has also had some tougher people to work with along the way, and learned how to deal with those individuals and ask for help.
As part of her apprenticeship, she has been rotated every six months to a new crew across southwestern Ontario. “In that time you spend the first three months demonstrating that as a woman you can do this, and that as an apprentice you’re willing to learn, and then you spend the last three months bonding and growing with your crew till your next rotation.”
She says she has had some individuals tell her outright that women are not welcome and to go home. When you come across those people, she says, you can either “fold to their opinions, or come out strong and show them you are in fact capable of the trade you are learning and you’ll be a better journeyman/person than they are.”
Even among those who would support her on the job, Noble says there can still be differences in the way she is treated, in social outings, or in changes in how they behave in her presence.
She says time constraints cause some of the greatest project challenges. This is when teams must pull together and where women can demonstrate their skills in attention to detail and safety and ability to be part of the team.
Noble says she loves her career’s challenges and diversity, whether it is working with high voltage electricity between 120VAC and 500,000 VAC, climbing the steel one day or working in the shop wiring a panel the next. “We work outside and inside, cold or hot. Everyday is something new and exciting and there are so many branches of electrical. I also am certified in fiber optics and enjoy working with that as well.”
Continuing her own education, Noble also reaches out to the community through Kickass Careers and her own union, educating young people on the benefits of trades careers.
“I would highly recommend any trade, and especially electrical, to women,” she said. “We are fully capable to do whatever we want to do. If you want to learn how to wire houses, arenas, hospitals, or build substations, and you enjoy working inside and outside, in small places and in an open yard, working with your hands and you’re not colour blind, give electrical a chance.”
Her advice to young people is to take a variety of shop classes in high school, to stick with maths and sciences, to use co-op opportunities to try things and, if they’re interested, to look into the Ontario Young Apprentice Program.
“If you are already out of school and are working or are in college or university, just know it is never too late to get into the trades. You just need to be willing get in there and try your best. Have an excellent work ethic. Show up and earn while you learn. The trades are an amazing opportunity to see the world while building the world for tomorrow.”