When trades are in your blood, gender doesn’t matter. That’s the view of Simone Hewitt, a steamfitter apprentice with UA Local 46 in Scarborough, Ontario, and one of the few women working in Canada’s building and construction trades. Although women account for roughly four per cent of Canada’s total trades work force, Hewitt isn’t intimidated by an industry dominated by men. The disparity forces her to push harder to show that women are just as capable with a power tool.
Growing up in a family of tradespeople — her step-dad is an electrician and her grandpa was a tradesman — Hewitt got a taste for working with her hands at an early age. In grade eight, when she was looking at potential high schools, Hewitt made a conscious decision to choose a technical school that focused on trades.
In high school, Hewitt took a special liking to plumbing, having taken two years of plumbing classes where she perfected and showed off her skills to fellow classmates, all of whom were men. “I loved working with my hands and troubleshooting problems, “said Hewitt. “I love building things even more today than I did then. That’s why my high school plumbing teacher, who also taught night school at Local 46, suggested I get into the trades when I graduated.”
Today Hewitt is in her fifth year of apprenticeship with UA Canada, meaning 2016 will mark her first year as a steamfitter journeywoman — a career she’s committed to not only for herself but also for her young son.
With every apprenticeship comes its own set of obstacles, just as every parent experiences his or her own set of challenges. “I’ve experienced sexism in the workplace, there’s no doubt about it,” said Hewitt. “Some people think women aren’t cut out for the trades, but then I work with them and show them otherwise.”
She isn’t fazed by any road block she encounters – whether on the job or at home. “Local 46 has been so supportive since day one,” said Hewitt. “Any time I’ve had an issue I’ve talked to someone at the Local and they’ve helped me out.” Due to this support, Hewitt has been able to successfully balance her home and work life as a single parent.
“The best advice I can give women who are in the trades or considering them as a career is to have a thick skin,” said Hewitt. “Not every day is going to be a piece of cake, just like any job, but if you want it bad enough you’ll make a career for yourself. Show everyone you’re just as capable as the next person — people will catch on quicker than you’d think.”