Occupation: Apprentice Boilermaker
Michelle is a first year apprentice with the Boilermakers Local 73 Union.
At 29 years old, Michelle is the first female boilermaker, as well as female welder, from New Brunswick to be accepted into the Boilermaker Local 73.
She grew up in the small town of Chipman and recently purchased her first home in Saint John.
She is currently employed through Lorenville Mechanical at Point Lepreau.
Michelle Blyth with her apprenticeship class on a mock pressure vessel.
When you were growing up, did you ever consider a career in the trades?
Not really. I spent a lot of my time concentrating on sports and school. I did, however, work during my high school summers at Grand Lake Timber on the Finger Jointer crew and enjoyed it. Later on, in my mid-twenties, I realized that I enjoyed the construction industry much more than I do your typical 9-5 job. Welding intrigued me, so I tried my hand at it and realized I was good at it. I love the concentration and steadiness required for this trade.
Why did you decide to pursue a career as a boilermaker?
It seemed to be a natural choice for me as I have a few family members that are also members of Local 73. I had always asked my father about it and was interested in his job. He and I spent a lot of time together when I was growing up building things and working on cars. I've always spent time trying to be good at what he taught me and got pleasure out of seeing the finished product of our work we had done with our own hands. After talking more in-depth about it with him and choosing welding as my trade, I decided I wanted to become a member of the Boilermakers Union. The members take great pride in their work, work very hard, and are very proud of their union. I wanted to be a part of that as well.
Were your family and friends supportive in your decision to become a boilermaker? What was their reaction like when you first told them?
They were, and still are, very supportive. They are extremely proud.
It wasn't any surprise when I had first told them because there were always discussions about it. I'm a tomboy who always wanted to be involved in what the guys were doing, so they knew it would be an easy fit in my lifestyle, and I could handle the trade industry no problem.
What is a boilermaker?
That's a hard, yet easy question. I can't really define or describe the trade. The work mostly involves heavy rigging and lifting, fitting of a structure to be welded, and of course welding itself. There are a lot of confined spaces involved as you need to fit into tight spaces to cut, fit and weld pipes. A lot of the work focuses on new construction as well as maintenance of Boilers, Pressure vessels, and towers. You definitely need to be aware of what you are getting yourself into for this trade as it isn't for everyone.
Are there any myths or misconceptions about your job that you'd like to dispel?
A lot of people think that the men in this trade frown upon women in this industry. I have found this to be the opposite. They have been supportive and interested in the work that I do. The typical response that I have been getting is that there needs to be more women in the trades and they are glad to see me pursue this career. The men that I have met so far that I work with from around the Maritime Provinces have treated me like a sister.
Do you work with any other female boilermakers?
Not yet. I am the first female, as well as female welder, from New Brunswick to be accepted into the Boilermaker Local 73. This is quite a proud accomplishment for me as well as my family.
Have you experienced any challenges (or barriers) working in a male dominated profession?
I do everyday. Not everyone is going to be supportive, and sometimes people in this industry tend to make it a challenge for you. This small group of people just gives me the drive to do better and prove myself to be a strong, hard worker. The thing that I like about it is that I can prove myself through my work. It takes time but it is worth it when the job gets complete. The way that I look at it is this – everybody has their own opinion and they are entitled to it, however you can't argue a job done well and done the way it should be whether it be a man or a woman who does it.
What do you enjoy most about your job? What excites you about going to work every day?
I love going to work. I love welding and I continuously learn something new everyday. I enjoy the support and help I get from working with my “Brothers” in the union. I will always be learning throughout my career. As well I'll be able to travel and work in different locations not only in Canada, but around the world once I have completed my Red Seal.
I would say that I enjoy the people that I meet and get to work with in this industry. They come from many different backgrounds and it's all about work hard, play hard.
What kinds of qualities or skills are needed to be a good boilermaker?
You must be a hard worker. Getting into dirty places, tight spots and working in high elevations is not for everyone. As well, you must have a tough skin and determination to deal with some of the challenges that will come your way.
Travelling is also a way of life, so it's something that you always have to keep in mind. There are a lot of times you may be away from home months at a time.
What do you hope to do after completing your apprenticeship?
Make my family, especially my father proud. I want to take the work ethic he has given me and use it throughout my career.
With the welding aspect of it, I want to be as skilled in my trade as possible. The more tickets you have, the more in demand you'll be. I want to be known as good at what I do.
There are also opportunities to teach welding, become a welding inspector, or be an active member working in the office at the Union Hall.
What advice would you give to other women or young female students who are interested in pursuing a career as a boilermaker?
Ask questions and speak to people in the industry. Spend time getting to know the trade and what it entails. Never give up as it can take time. Some people will try to hinder you but if it's what you really want to do, you'll do it.
Find out more on how to become a boilermaker, visit the Canadian Boilermakers website.
Read testimonials and success stories from boilermakers.