STAFF WRITER – The Ontario Construction Report
Jamie McMillan is a journeyman ironworker with Local 736 in Hamilton. She also recently signed on as a boilermaker with Local 128 in Burlington seeking additional personal growth and opportunity. McMillan is also founder of Journeyman, It’s a Status, Not a Gender and co-founder of Workplace Equality Awareness Ribbon.
McMillan says she originally founded her grassroots program in 2012. She and business partner Pat Williams recently rebranded the organization as KICKASS Careers, added their first sponsor, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB), and are working to promote trades careers.
“I take spring and fall off to promote careers in construction and other under represented occupations such as technology, to raise awareness and encourage young women men to consider the vast opportunities the trades have to offer from the tools to the white hat.”
She says understanding that once young people complete school and move on to a career they will work a third of their lives and she wants students to find successful and rewarding career paths. “It is important to find something they love to do and find rewarding. The company motto ‘kickass career’ hints at the kickass life the trades can offer.”
McMillan says she also understands that a career in the trades will not be the path everyone she speaks with chooses but she still encourages everyone to try it out while they are in high school and it is free. “I remind them that whether they choose a career in construction or not, the unique skill sets they will gain in trades and tech classes will help them with practical life skills.”
McMillan herself has worked on job sites across the country as an ironworker and welder in steel mills, hydro plants, car plants, mines, gas and oil plants, and most recently as a connector in a mod yard in Alberta. “I worked for a heavy lifting and machinery moving company cribbing and blocking, moving heavy equipment and machinery with gantry cranes and hydraulic jack and slides.” Growing up in a family who encouraged hard work and where everyone chipping in regardless of gender, McMillan says she was prepared for the lack of diversity and inequality that can exist on job sites but felt it was important to blend in and not voice concerns. She says she tried to be as accommodating as possible and worked hard to prove her worth.
Inequality is still very common in construction, however with more women entering the workforce and proving themselves, “we are slowly breaking down barriers. For the most part though we are still all painted with the same brush,” she said.
She says while there is more talk about diversity and equality and worksites promote inclusive work cultures, often there is very little support when women experience problems and report them. “There is very little in the way of accountability, disciplinary action or recourse,” McMillan said. “The woman is the one who ultimately ends up laid off or will quit if there are problems and that needs to change.”
McMillan says she loves her job, the unique skill sets she has acquired over the years and the ability to live a selfsufficient independent lifestyle. She enjoys the variety of something new and adventurous every day. “I love the rush I get when I work at heights or look back and see a structure I am partly responsible for putting in place that will outlive me and many generations to follow. I love how all the trades work together to build the structures and landmarks that decorate our countryside, bridge our waterways and support our towering cities.”
She says it is important for women to understand that construction is more than being on the tools. Tools she says are just a foot in the door and a great way to gain experience when considering the next step or career choice. There are an endless numbers of pathways and alternatives including safety, quality control, welding inspector, planning, engineering, estimating and more.
This is part of the message she works to deliver to students. “I want them to know that there are alternatives to college and university that also offer lucrative careers. I want the young women to see that real tradeswomen exist and that we are very diverse in age, size, shape, ethnic background and sexual orientation.”
McMillan and her partner have also founded the Workplace Equality (W.E.) Awareness Ribbon campaign. The new red and white polka dot ribbon intends to raise awareness about the ongoing struggle to recruit and retain people in the trades. McMillan says the challenges are many and still being understood but among them is accessible and flexible childcare.
“Our goal is to create sustainable benchmarks that employers can use to implement diversity and equality into their work cultures. It is about setting higher standards in the worplace to maximize employee safety, satisfaction and productivity.”
Officially launched on social media in March, the founders hope to lobby government and organizations and to come up with an action plan, funding and support to implement change. She says she hopes one day the ribbon will become a “stamp of approval” for employers and investors who meet the criteria and benchmarks it represents.
The first stages will be identifying interested employers and investors who want to work collaboratively to define what the benchmarks of competency will be for those who will use the ribbon. McMillan says she envisions an equal and diverse workplace free from all type of harassment, discrimination, and bullying regardless of differences, age, gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation, political views and physical disability.
For more information on the W.E. ribbon, to book McMillan or for questions about her, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.