Journeyman: It’s A Status, Not A Gender
Jamie McMillan is an Ironworker/Welder with over 12 years of experience. She is the founder and spokesperson for Journeyman, an organization that promotes careers in construction and non-traditional career paths through school and community outreach. Jamie and her business partner Pat Williams, an Operating Engineer, are also the founders of the new Workplace Equality (W.E.) Awareness Ribbon initiative which aims to maximize recruitment and retention in the workplace.
Working in a male-dominated industry, Jamie had to work hard to be seen as an equal among her male counterparts. She soon began reaching out and networking with other trades men and women to determine the best ways to promote the skilled trades to others as a great career path. With this mission solidified, she officially founded Journeyman in 2012. Her efforts attracted notice in local and national media outlets; her story has been highlighted through national advertising campaigns. Since then, she’s continued to expand the Journeyman initiative through her outreach and advocacy.
She graciously took the time to meet with me and discuss her career as well as the role mentorship has played in her life.
Editor: Tell us about your personal career history and how you ended up working as an Ironworker/Welder.
JM: I began my career as an Ironworker in 2002. My work life to that point had been unfulfilling. I wanted to do something challenging and ambitious. After moving to Hamilton, I had a chance meeting with an old classmate who had begun her own career in the trades. This inspired me to pursue my ironworker apprenticeship. Soon after I began my first job, I knew this was where I was meant to be. I became extremely passionate about promoting opportunities in the skilled trades to others.
Editor: In your role as a skilled tradesperson do you prefer to work solo or as part of a team?
JM: We always work in pairs or as a team. The construction industry is always evolving and ever changing. It can be a dangerous place so it is very important that we are skilled professionals and properly trained. We have to be aware and alert at all times. We go the extra mile to follow safety policies and procedure. We all want to go home to our families the way we came to work so we all take the responsibility to watch one another’s backs.
Editor: What role has mentorship played in your development?
JM: Being a mentor has changed me and brought so many positive things to my life. It brought me back to my roots. I come from a very giving selfless family. My parents always took in foster kids, at risk youth, aboriginal students, and anyone that could use a home cooked meal or warm place to sleep. We owned an apartment/rooming house with a revolving door. For many years I went off and did my own thing but it wasn’t until the last few years that I remembered how good it felt to help people. Now helping other people has become my passion and life long mission. I want to help change somebody’s stars and educate them about opportunities they did not know existed, offer hope, and empower them to believe they can be anything they want to be. I want to help create positive change.
Editor: When I first met you, one of the things that really impressed me is that you’ve built an outstanding network of tradespeople to act as your mentors and advisers. Tell us more about how this works.
JM: In the construction industry we are all brothers and sisters. We have created huge online networks to help mentor and support one another in any and all situations. If one of us is having an issue or dealing with an obstacle at work then during our break we can post it on any one of the many online groups we have through social media. Within minutes we start to get advice and support from sisters and brothers of all ages in all construction sectors worldwide. We all act as mentors and mentees and make a collective effort in solidarity to empower and encourage one another. Social media has changed the world (especially for tradeswomen). When I am down these women and men are my reinforcement troops and I depend on them. We all depend on one another.
Editor: What are the key challenges and opportunities that the skilled trades are facing?
JM: Up until recently schools have been encouraging students to attend college and university. Trades have not been encouraged in many years. It seemed as though we forgot that Building and Construction is what makes up the foundations, offices, homes, and industries that keep us safe and working. They create our beautiful skylines, landmarks, and glorious bridges. We desperately need skilled trades workers and have a huge gap to fill. With the aging workforce about to retire and the vast opportunities in forestry, mining, and building and construction there will be close to a million jobs in the next 10 years that will need to be filled by tradesmen and women. Right now is a prime time for those interested and who enjoy working with their hand to go to a trades school or apply for apprenticeships and begin a rewarding career with excellent wages, pension and benefits. Not to mention the amazing skill sets you learn that not only contribute to the job you do at work but the practical life skills you bring home.
Editor: I can see that founding Journeyman was a very personal way for you to address some of these challenges and opportunities. How have you had to change and evolve to make this happen?
JM: I grew up in Timmins, Ontario, a small mining town in northern Canada. I wasn’t aware of the vast opportunity in the construction industry. I wanted to be a miner like my father but was discouraged by its absence of women. I followed in my mother’s footsteps and became a health care professional. I was very unhappy for many years and in my late 20’s became discouraged with the direction of my life. I spent years working in health care facilities, homecare, and bartending/serving at restaurants and pubs.
Discovering the trades changed my career path and gave me a feeling of self worth and empowerment. I was fascinated and intrigued by my desire to learn to create with steel and figure out ways to put it all together with cranes, rigging, bolts, and welds. I loved the physical challenges, being one of the guys, and seeing the results of the work we did together daily knowing it would stand there for years to come.
I knew there had to be others out other who would love to find a job that made them as happy as I am. We spend a third of our lifetime working so finding something you love to do is so important. I became so passionate about promoting careers in construction to others. We need to build, maintain, and rebuild constantly. There will always be a need for housing, pluming, ventilation, heat, hydro and industry. Those are all things that require trades and therefore there will always be a demand.
After nearly 13 years in the trades I have learned so much. I have made my fair share of mistakes and had many ups and downs. Each time I learned something new and grew stronger. I want others to learn for my accomplishments and mistakes. There were few women when I first joined in 2002 and often throughout my career it’s been a challenge just to find a women’s bathroom. I had very few women to talk to that understood before I discovered social media. So I want to be sure to connect new recruits so they have the support and encouragement of others worldwide as I do.
My mistakes and observations have helped me to develop amazing school and community outreach presentations. I use them as a guide but I truly speak from the heart. My message changes each time as I try to reach out to many different types of personalities and attitudes. I have many hats. I am all about grassroots organising and authenticity when promoting the trades. I don’t sugar coat the reality of the construction industry. I refuse to set anyone up for failure because it can be tough. But I feel my experiences are part of the program I offer. I am not afraid to address the hard subjects that are a reality such as emotions, appearance, and self-respect in the workplace. It takes strong, determined, hard working individuals with thick skin, good attitude and great sense of humour.
Anyone who likes to work with their hands and has a passion to be part of something amazing should consider construction careers. It is not just for the boys anymore. Safety, modern equipment and technology are making it easier on everyone. There are many mechanical advantages that help us do our job smarter rather than harder by using our brain instead of our backs.
A career in construction sells itself but I want to be out there making sure everyone knows about it especially young girls.
The word Journeyman has been around for centuries. It does not mean that construction is only for men. Journeyman is a status not a gender. Women and girls should be proud of that status. It’s a great achievement.
Part 2 of my interview with Jamie McMillan will be published on Friday.