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Jobs of the Future: Kap apprenticeships spark love of the trades

Maurice Welding tapping local youth to build workforce in house
Maurice Welding has recruited apprentices Megan Parent (left) and Élissa Mayhew to its Kapuskasing shop, where they're earning their welding tickets under the guidance of skilled and experienced mentors.

Imagine being 17 years old, you haven’t even finished high school yet, and you’re already a qualified tradesperson with a full-time job lined up after graduation.

It's not just a dream for Élissa Mayhew.

In March, the Kapuskasing resident earned her tickets in shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) and flux cored arc welding (FCAW) while working at Maurice Welding in her hometown.

Once she collects her diploma in June, she'll continue full time at the shop where she'll embark on what she hopes will be a long career in the trade that she's come to love.

"I had taken a course at school where I had seen somebody weld for the first time, and then I had gotten to try it for the first time, and that's where the passion really started,” said the soft-spoken teenager.

After starting her training at the shop last summer, Mayhew became part of a unique on-the-job apprenticeship initiative Maurice Welding has developed in house.

Rosane Parent, who leads the project, said the shop identifies local youth who show an aptitude for the job and hires them for seasonal work where they can evaluate their skill set and work ethic.

Those who excel are then taken on permanently and paired with a mentor, with the student working toward their Canadian Welding Bureau (CWB) certification.

Taking this approach enables the shop to fill the gaps in its own workforce, while training up-and-coming tradespeople for fulfilling work in their home community.

“I think it amounts to trust, respect, and personal investment,” said Parent, the shop's welding supervisor. “If you can get those in your company — if you can give that to your employee and receive it from your employee — then that's the recipe."​

Megan Parent started apprenticing with Maurice Welding at the age of 20. Four years later, she's a high-pressure welder qualified under the Technical Standards & Safety Authority (TSSA), is free of debt, and has a secure job in a field she loves. | Maurice Welding photo

​Parent said the shop's commitment goes beyond honing a student's technical skills. They'll also help their apprentices develop the life skills needed for success.

If they need access to mental health support, Parent will help them find the appropriate resources. If they're unfamiliar with how to handle money, she'll tutor them in financial management.

Even someone who might be struggling can become a valuable employee, said Parent, who believes investment in the whole person is the key to developing a loyal workforce.

“We can see raw talent and have somebody who's struggling in life and take them on, helping with their struggles,” she said.

“We have resources in the community that we can make the first phone calls for you, give you phone numbers, hold your hand while you're doing it. I think that that's also a role that the companies need to play."

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Four years ago, Maurice Welding welcomed its first female apprentice, Megan Parent, through the Indigenous Women in Mining program.

Growing up around tradesmen and mechanics through her grandfather's trucking business, Megan said she'd always been interested in the trades. She'd tried welding in high school and loved it, but was discouraged from pursuing it as a career.

She decided to apply for the program anyway. When she got in, Parent helped her access mental health support and other resources, and she has flourished.

Under the mentorship of Denis Ratté, a 35-year veteran of the trade, Megan became CWB-certified in structural welding before earning her certification from the Technical Standards & Safety Authority (TSSA) in boilers, pressure vessels, piping, and fittings.

At 24, she's now an integral part of the team, earning a regular paycheque and living debt-free. A point of pride is her pickup truck, which she purchased on her own two years ago.

“I was very appreciative of Maurice Welding for actually taking me on and giving me the opportunity, and seeing my potential in this work field,” Megan said.

“I slowly built my confidence in this workplace, and I can tell that, from four years back, the first year that I started here, I was not the same person that I am today."

Parent has heard the argument from other companies that apprentices cost money and take time away from production. She thinks that's a “copout.”

It costs a company more to constantly have to retrain their workforce through turnover, she said.

Parent believes it's better to take the time to invest in training staff properly, the first time, and to earn their loyalty so they're encouraged to stay long term.

“I think it's easy to say we're wasting time, but in the end, you're not,” Parent said. “Products go out at the same time they would have, whether there's an apprentice beside (the mentor) or not. We've seen that.”

When Parent launched this strategy in 2020, there was some initial pushback from existing employees who were uncomfortable working alongside women.

But after taking the time to explain the company's policies and guidelines, which includes a no-harassment policy, she said the staff now embraces Mayhew and Megan as two of their own.

They've seen the quality of their welds, and they've got to know them as people, and staff are now the first to stand up to any harassment the two young women might face on the job, although it tends to be rare.​

Megan Parent and Élissa Mayhew work on a project at the Maurice Welding shop. | Maurice Welding photo

​Parent credits the shop's owner, Dany Gaudreau, with allowing her to embark on this initiative, and for putting the Maurice Welding name behind them.

"We want young women to know we're not going to throw you in the field not supported,” she said.

“And that's something that needs to be said to any women wanting to come in to these trades is to ensure that their company's behind them.”

Training one welder at a time is a slow-and-steady approach that will take years to bear fruit, Parent said.

As mining in the North booms, small shops like Maurice Welding can have a tough time retaining staff as the big mining companies move in and offer higher wages, she noted.

But the shop has found ways to make it work, like teaming up with competitors to fill gaps in the workforce.

They also offer employees a family-like environment, the flexibility to be able to meet family commitments, and they can remain in the community full time. Not every worker enjoys a camp environment that might see them working away from their family for days or weeks at a stretch, Parent said.

Bottom line, she said, is that companies have to learn to treat workers as people, not as numbers that can be replaced at any time.

It's working for Mayhew, who knows she has a soft place to land as she builds her budding career.

The 17-year-old's skill set has advanced so quickly, Parent speculates she could be one of the youngest welders in Ontario to complete her structural welding certification, and she's already progressing on her TSSA skills.

Mayhew isn't bothered by the fuss, though. For her, it's all about doing something she loves, and doing it well.

“Seeing a plan of something come to life is a really good feeling,” she said.


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Lindsay Kelly

About the Author: Lindsay Kelly

Lindsay Kelly is a Sudbury-based reporter who's worked in print and digital media for more than two decades. She joined the Northern Ontario Business newsroom in 2011.
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