News

Work about skill, not gender: speaker

By Michelle Ruby, Brantford Expositor

Emily Chung, a licensed technician and owner of AutoNiche in Markham, spoke to students at Holy Trinity Catholic School on Monday about careers in skilled trades. Michelle Ruby/The Expositor

Emily Chung, a licensed technician and owner of AutoNiche in Markham, spoke to students at Holy Trinity Catholic School on Monday about careers in skilled trades. Michelle Ruby/The Expositor

SIMCOE  - 

Emily Chung was tired of feeling ripped off when she took her car in for servicing.

So, the university graduate with degrees in psychology and business, who had a three-year-old and newborn at home, decided, at age 28, to enrol at trade school at Centennial College.

She was the only female among the class of 40, most of whom were 10 years her junior. The learning curve was steep – “I had no idea there were three types of screwdrivers” and challenging.

“I’ve had guys give me all sorts of sexist, racist and plain rude reasons why I shouldn’t be in the trade,” Chung told a group of students on Monday at Holy Trinity Catholic High School in Simcoe. “But I’ve also had women tell me that they’d never have me service their car because they believe it’s a ‘man’s job.’

“Now those caught me by surprise. There’s nothing like having your own gender decide what you should and shouldn’t do.”

But Chung, who also spoke to senior students at St. Joseph’s School Monday afternoon, urged students, some of them considering careers in trades, not to focus on gender.

“Your work has nothing to do with gender,” she said. “It is about integrity and honesty and all those other soft skills. Gender isn’t an issue unless you make it an issue. People aren’t coming to me because I’m female but because I’m a licensed technician.

“The skilled trades is really about skills.”

 Several hundred local students, some in career classes, co-op placements and in tech classes at Holy Trinity and in Grades 6 to 8 at St. Josephs, were invited to Chung’s presentation.

“It was really informative,” said Jason Jones, a Grade 12 student who completed a co-op placement at a Simcoe auto repair centre and will start his apprenticeship there right after graduation in June. “It helps you know what you can expect in the trades.”

Jones said he always enjoyed working with his hands, changing the oil in the family’s off-road vehicles and doing other maintenance work, and knew when he started high school that he wanted to be a mechanic.

Robin DeRoo, a guidance counsellor at Holy Trinity, said staff present students with information about all their choices post-high school: apprenticeship, college, university and going directly to the workplace.

“There are four pathways and we value them all,” said DeRoo.

Auto teacher Clark Chernak said an increasing number of students are considering jobs in skilled trades. He credits skills competitions, direction from guidance counsellors, changing parent attitudes about careers in skilled trades, and presentations such as Chung’s, as factors.

Educators and employers know that this generation of students will be needed to help alleviate a looming major skilled trades shortage.

Between 2014 and 2020, an estimated 219,000 skilled trades workers will retire.

Although the trades continue to be male-dominated, more female students are taking tech programs, including computer engineering, welding, construction, tech design, and culinary arts.

“I’ve never had so many young women in my auto class in my life,” said Chernak.

Chung opened her business, AutoNiche in Markham, in 2009, working on cars as a licensed technician. She also writes for trade publications and blogs, mostly about car maintenance tips.

She says she enjoys speaking to students about her experience. She sees it as a “good conversation starter” for both young men and women.

“It’s important for girls to hear it and for guys to hear it so they can see that women can do it, too.”

While the number of women working in auto repair remains very low – somewhere between four and six per cent – Chung is committed to helping that change.

“It starts from us,” she said. “The truth is we have to change our thinking.”

 

mruby@postmedia.com