Sometimes life-altering moments disguise themselves.
It was 1988, and Liane Quevillon was working as an administrative assistant in a small Northern Ontario electrician’s office. Quevillon was sitting at her desk when her boss phoned to say he was short staffed, and asked if she could do some field work.
“I had always worked with my father and my uncles, so I decided to take him up on his offer,” she says. Twenty-six years later, Quevillon is a certified journeyperson electrician, a small business owner and an electrical apprenticeship instructor at Collège Boréal.
“My career has certainly evolved over time,” she said, “and it has been good, rewarding.”
The 49-year-old Sudbury resident said that, growing up, she always quite enjoyed working with her hands, and that making a career out of her talents held more appeal than sitting in an office all day.
“And the money in electrical work was much better,” she points out. “That was a good incentive, too.”
She said she always tells her students: “Don’t think you will be in the same job forever. This career can take you places.”
There have been hurdles, however.
Quevillon said when she started working as an electrician, there were very few women in the trades, and the money female electricians made — though perhaps better than an office worker — was far lower than their male counterparts.
“There was a big wage difference. I remember when my brother became an electrician he made $5 or $10 per hour more than me.”
There is still a significant gender imbalance in the trades: Women make up less than three per cent of registered apprentices in the industrial and construction trades.
The Ontario College of Trades, a member-driven regulatory body for skilled trade workers, said it is well aware of the gender gap and is working hard to promote this career path to young people, particularly underrepresented groups such as women.
“The College is working with many groups like Skills Canada-Ontario and school boards to achieve this,” said David Tsubouchi, the organization’s chief executive officer. “We are partnering with experts to promote mentors in the trades and we are also looking at social media opportunities to reach out to young people.”
The effort is starting to pay off. According to the Ontario government, the number of females in apprenticeship training is increasing, with women now representing 19 per cent of apprentices in Ontario.
“I like where the College of Trades is going in terms of promoting to youth,” said Quevillon.
She responds modestly about her own accomplishments in a male-dominated field, but with some prodding she does acknowledge achievements during her career.
“It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve worked hard. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a pioneer.”
And it all started with an unexpected phone call.