Skilled trades success stories
Meet some people in Ontario who are working and making a difference in the skilled trades.
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Simone Hewitt — Steamfitter
Simone is a steamfitter who got interested in the trades during her high school years, where she took shop classes at Central Technical High School in Toronto. She originally wanted to become a plumber but was offered a steamfitter apprenticeship before she even knew what the profession consisted of — and she’s glad she went for it.
I love what I do — I think it fits my lifestyle, she says.
As a steamfitter, I work with a wide range of pipe sizes and materials — it's a hard and potentially dangerous job if you aren't careful but well worth it, in my opinion. Her hard work paid off and she became a certified steamfitter journeyperson in 2017.
Currently, Simone works at the Petro Canada Lubricant Centre as a steamfitter. She says the best thing about her trade is that she gets to build things and work with her hands.
I can’t imagine sitting behind a desk — I like being on the move, meeting other people and talking shop. It’s a more relaxed environment, the way we are with each other while we work. It makes work more enjoyable and makes the day go by faster.
She admits that there are sometimes challenges getting jobs as a woman in the trades, but she encourages young women not to be swayed.
Don’t let other people’s opinions stop you from doing whatever you want.
Simone sees the amazing opportunities that the trades offer for a long-term career.
At 60, I don’t see myself climbing on ladders or slugging pipe over my shoulder. I've considered getting into the safety [aspect of the trades] or maybe teaching a shop class But for now, she’s very happy working.
I love all trades — I want to get my welding ticket, my gas, and maybe plumbing one day.
Clinton Guitard — Set Painter and Manager
Clinton is the Key Scenic Artist for Amazon Prime’s show The Boys (season 2). Previously, he worked on Star Trek: Discovery as a head painter, and over a hundred other TV shows and movies including Nikita, Total Recall, RoboCop and Suicide Squad.
Clinton loves working on The Boys and the different challenges it gives him compared to the space setting of Star Trek.
[The Boys] is real life, it’s on the street, there’s explosions, there’s breakaway walls, we’re in different countries…That’s the great thing about this business: one minute you could be working on a spaceship, the next minute you’re working on a dark alley.
Clinton has 18 years of experience in the art department. As a key scenic artist, he now manages 24 employees and their workflow for six different filming locations.
I started here, years ago, sweeping floors. And I slowly just picked up and caught on and asked questions and just learned how to do the job. And that has grown into—now I’m actually running a department. So if I can do it, anybody can.
As a manager, Clinton says it’s been tough finding employees because of the growth of the film industry in Ontario. He encourages people who are interested to jump in and apply– and he means anyone.
In this business, you could be male, female — it doesn’t matter your gender, your size, your age ... because there is a job for every single person here. Whether you’re an artist, or you’re a plasterer, you’re a painter, your specialty is cement, there is a job for everybody here. We have everybody from the age of 18 to 65 working here right now.
What we hope for is people that come here want to learn, he continues.
Because we teach you on the job … if you just come, have a great attitude, give it your all ... as long as you’re on time, and you show up, and you bring the tools required, we’ll show you how to do it.
And Clinton offers that the compensation – both monetary and otherwise—is great.
It is a time-sensitive job, and it can be long hours, he admits.
But I couldn’t imagine doing anything else ... I’m on the move all day long, and I’m doing some really cool things. And to see it, at the end — not only when you get your awesome pay cheque — but when you see the end product, when you see it on TV, I find it so rewarding. I’m like, Wow. We did that. How cool did that look?
Chagall Villeneuve-Hollis — Painter
Chagall is a Scenic Artist on the Amazon Prime TV series The Boys.
Chagall has eight years of experience as a painter in the film industry. Previously, she was doing work with interior designers. She made the shift to the film industry through her father, who has been working for over 30 years in show business.
Even though Chagall’s passion is in painting, she says that she does a lot more than paint in her work with the art department.
In this field, you’re like a jack of all trades in the department. Her work might involve constructing and replicating a building, or a street, or anything, from a reference photo, or making something look as old and tired or as bright and new as it should in a scene.
We make things look the way they’re supposed to look. So if I’m given a reference photo, and they ask me to make something look a certain way, I come up with a process — a process that works for many people, not just myself — and then we all apply that process together, and then we end up with [an aged wall like] this!
Chagall adores working on The Boys because of the amount of creativity it affords her.
This is one of my favorite projects to work on, for sure…anything that has heavy scenic work — anything artistic in it — like a lot of aging, a lot of making things look old and grungy — that’s the fun stuff for painters, you can get creative with it. It’s not boring.
While Chagall recognizes that sometimes being on a shop floor or warehouse can be intimidating for women, she says that hasn’t come up as a challenge for her.
Most of the people I work with are women — a lot of them are women, she says.
I haven’t really run into too many problems in terms of that stereotypical fear that you would have getting into the industry. It’s been quite receptive and welcoming.
For young people looking to get into this trade, Chagall encourages them to give it all their effort.
Do the best you can do with what you’re given, and you will work your way up. Just take anything they give you, do it 100 percent, and they’ll notice that hard work — that interest — and they’ll give you better things.
Jennifer Green — Industrial Mechanic Millwright
Jennifer is a licensed Industrial Mechanic Millwright who is passionate about getting more women into the trades.
Jennifer was on the road to university when the opportunity for co-operative education came up. Even though her father was a Tool and Die Maker, Jennifer never thought of the skilled trades as her career path.
After looking at her local college course calendar and reading about all of the different skilled trades, Jennifer was immediately drawn to Industrial Mechanic Millwright.
I may have achieved well in my academic courses, but this opportunity gave me the ability to truly understand how much of a hands-on visual learner I am, she says.
She signed up for the co-op and ended up loving it so much that she applied for the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program the next year. She apprenticed at Linamar, a large manufacturing company, and did her in-school classes at Conestoga College. She passed her Certificate of Qualification exam in 2008.
Jennifer says one of the best things about working in the trades is the variety.
Your daily work can always change, from what type of equipment you’re working on, to a breakdown and rebuild ... I love how versatile and transferable my skills are to various aspects of my life, having multiple skill sets that I can use in other roles and at home.
Jennifer says that the best thing about working as a millwright is that she’s
a small person, working on big industrial machines! I understood the individual components and inner workings, and how it was all connected. Rebuilding something like a gearbox was like performing surgery for a machine.
She also admits, though, that being small has its challenges for this trade, but she found work-arounds.
There are many different types of tools and equipment that can assist in completing the job ... There were also custom tools I made for myself to help make the job easier, enough that others would ask to borrow them.
She started her advocacy for young women in the skilled trades in high school and has never stopped talking up the trades. After competing in some Skills Ontario/Canada competitions as the one of the first woman millwrights, it was only natural that Jennifer was chosen to become Skills Ontario’s Director of Competitions and Young Women’s Initiative, where she currently works.
For young people, especially young women who are interested in the trades, Jennifer suggests talking with your high school technology teachers and guidance counsellors, connecting with local colleges, and reaching out to organizations such as Skills Ontario.
Research, learn and soak up as much information as you can, she says.
The more knowledge you gain, the more you will help yourself in making the best decision for your career path.
Motive Power sector
Yeeman Chen — Truck and Coach Technician
Yeeman is a certified Truck and Coach Technician for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), the city’s transit system. Truck and Coach Technicians diagnose and repair different systems and failures of trucks and buses from the engines, brakes, transmission, and anything else that is needed to ensure the vehicles are safe and reliable.
Yeeman’s interest in cars, trucks, and buses started when she helped in her grandparents’ shop in China when she was young.
I always enjoyed the work, but I was constantly told by the rest of the world that I needed to go to university and find an office job somewhere, so I did. When I realized I was unhappy sitting in front of the computer for 60 hours a week, I knew I had to make a change and do something I always knew I enjoyed doing.
Yeeman pursued her passion by going to Centennial College for a pre-apprenticeship program, where she participated in a co-op with the TTC. She immediately jumped into an apprenticeship with the TTC afterwards and has never looked back. In fact, she’s now a Technical Instructor who helps to design and deliver training to other Truck and Coach Technicians.
I think the best thing about this trade is the diversity of work, she says.
It’s never boring, because you are not doing the exact same task repeatedly every day. You wake up and go to work, not knowing what problems you will be solving today, and at the end of the day, you always learn something new.
For Yeeman, being a woman in the trade, especially at the beginning of her career, was the biggest challenge.
With the help of equipment and tools, the physical capability of heavy lifting is not a limitation to what women can do in skilled trades. The more women getting into the trades and succeeding means the more role models we have for the next generation of women.
And Yeeman is definitely one of those role models. Not only is she helping to improve the curriculum for the Certificate of Qualification exam in her trade, but in 2013, she worked on a project to create an air brake demonstration model for the internal mechanisms of the brake system of the bus.
I designed and assembled the unit from scratch, and six years later, this is still being used to demonstrate how air brakes work to the bus drivers and new technicians.
Yeeman is very encouraging of anyone getting into the trades, but especially girls and young women.
If you are interested in the skilled trades, just go for it! It is such a rewarding career. Even if the rest of the world tells you that your life should be this one single story, you have the capability to write your own story.
Alexandra Chiarore — Automotive Painter and Auto Body & Collision Damage Repairer
Alexandra Chiarore loves fancy cars. She has 15 years of experience working with them.
Currently, Alexandra works at Pfaff Autoworks in Vaughan, Ontario where she works on new, high end cars like Porsche, Audi and McLaren. She loves the fact that she gets to work with fancy equipment that helps make things easier.
Alexandra got into automotive painting through the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program in high school and hasn’t worked outside of the trade since.
I’m not entirely sure what drew me to it, but it was the only thing that really piqued my interest as a teen.
A few years ago, she also got her certification as a collision technician. It’s clear that she loves the creative part of her work.
It’s really satisfying and it’s nice to see the fruits of your labour in the finished product. Fresh paint is really nice to look at, she says.
Alexandra is especially proud that she’s been able to work on some projects that are still on the car show scene. One is a Grand National that was done in single stage black that turned out glossy and almost perfect. She also did two-tone stripes on a new Mustang that you couldn’t feel under the clear coat.
Alexandra says that it’s a lot easier being in a male-dominated trade now that she has over a decade of experience. At the beginning, though, she admits that it was challenging because people didn’t always want to give her a chance. Her advice to girls who want to be in this trade?
Take it seriously and don’t expect extra attention or help. Once there’s enough of us working in the trade, it’ll just be commonplace. She says she’s already seeing much more support for girls in the trades now.
Alexandra definitely encourages young people to consider the trades.
It can end up much more lucrative than getting some degrees and doesn’t leave you with student debt.
Dave Shepherd — Motorcycle Technician
Dave Shepherd is a motorcycle technician, and a consultant in technical service and training at Yamaha Motor Canada.
Motorcycle maintenance and repair are the only things he’s ever wanted to do.
Motorcycles are just cool. They’re shiny. They’re fast. They’re fun to work on. Why wouldn’t you want to do it? he says.
Dave spent his childhood dreaming about motorcycles. As soon as he was old enough, he decided to go get his first job at a motorcycle store — sweeping floors.
They couldn’t get rid of me, he says.
Dave may have started at the bottom, but he definitely worked his way up. Not only does he work on motorcycles at Yamaha, but he also helps to train others in the trade — both in his shop, and with the examination for the Red Seal certification for motorcycle mechanic.
One of the greatest parts of the job for Dave is that he gets to try the latest technology in motorcycles — before the rest of the world.
I’m proud to travel the world to bring back all that great technology back to the shop.
John Bellehumeur — Arborist and Utility Arborist
John Bellehumeur is a certified Arborist and Utility Arborist who currently manages forestry operations for the City of St. Catharines.
Arborists prune, remove, and essentially perform
tree surgery to all types of woody plants. Utility Arborists also prune and remove trees and branches, but their work often has them near energized conductors like telephone poles.
John loves the variety and the physicality of the arborist trade.
You get to work outside all year and every tree that requires pruning or removing is always different. Doing tree work is a physically demanding trade and I’ve never heard of any Arborist who requires a gym membership.
John always had a love for the outdoors as a kid, and as a result, his high school counsellor suggested he take the Forestry program at Sir Sandford Fleming College. He later went back and took the arboriculture program as well. His first job was as a forestry technician with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
John never did formal apprenticeship training — he received trade equivalency because of his expertise when the apprenticeship program started and was then asked to be the course coordinator for the in-school training portion of the Utility Arborist apprenticeship program at Niagara College. He was also part of the committee that created the initial questions for the Certificate of Qualification for the Utility Arborist exam.
John loves his trade, and he’s proud that he manages nine employees who are all certified arborists or utility arborists.
He's also a proud father of four sons, all of whom are in or going into the trades. His son Jacob, 26, is a Tool and Die Maker apprentice; Owen, 24, is a millwright who is working on getting his Certificate of Qualification; Eric, 22, is a certified Truck and Coach Technician; and Noah, 14, is a high school student who is taking the Specialist High Skills Major program in welding and fabrication.
About his whole family going into the trades, John says,
I did coach my kids on the benefits of the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program as an option in high school. I also encouraged it because of the opportunities to enter the workforce at a younger age, and to have full-time meaningful employment as journeymen years sooner [than many of their friends]. But he says that his sons pursued their respective trades and their career paths on their own.
For parents whose kids are interested in going into the trades, John says,
I believe that trades for young people should be brought to their attention earlier in their education process to make them aware of what’s out there. He also encourages parents to really evaluate the economic benefits of apprenticeship training versus postsecondary education.
Photo credit: Kris Caetano
Karola Dirnberger — Hairstylist, TV and Film
Karola is a certified hairstylist in the entertainment industry. She’s currently working on the Amazon Prime superhero series The Boys. Previously, she worked on award-winning films and TV shows such as The Handmaid’s Tale, American Gods, Hannibal, Spotlight, and the Twilight movies, and won a Canadian Screen Award for her work on the movie The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.
Every project is creative because you get to create the look for a show, says Karola.
We’re the first people they see during the day and we set the tone for them going out to do their craft. It’s up to us to make sure they look camera-ready.
Karola did her apprenticeship in a salon in Toronto. She started like many others did — washing hair and sweeping floors, taking her classes at George Brown College, and eventually, writing her exam and working in salons. She then opened her own hair salon and found out about the film and TV industry through one of her employees.
I never look at this as a job, this is always fun for me. Karola says. But she admits that there are tough moments.
The biggest challenge in the film industry is the hours. It’s not unusual for hair and makeup — because we’re first in, last out — we’re looking at 14-16 hour days on average.
Still, the benefits outweigh the negatives for Karola.
Shooting around the world is a ball, she laughs.
My favourite place right now is Japan, but also Rome!
She also loves learning from and working with people who are the best in their field.
I’ve been so fortunate because I’ve managed to work with Academy Award winners, whether they’re actors or hair and make-up people.
For people who are interested in working in the trades, Karola tells them to go for it—especially in the film industry, which is booming with production because of all the new streaming services available. And Karola says that Ontario is one of the best places for them to create.
We have the best crews, we have the best contracts, and we’re an amazing province.
Karola is very aware of the importance of the trades.
The trades are the place to be, she says.
Artificial intelligence will not be able to take the place of a hairdresser. The value of what you do will only increase with time, so if you’re looking for longevity and you’re looking for great income, this is the place to be.