November 24, 2021

An Interview with Shannon Tymosko

An Interview with Shannon Tymosko

How did you get into the construction industry?

In 2017, at only 29 years of age, I realized that I did not like my current job. I would come home stressed, did not feel a sense of pride about the work I was doing, and had to fight for .50 cent raises that did not reflect the increase in cost of living. I enjoyed a few aspects of my job, like training and teaching, but overall, this was not a job that left me fulfilled or able to pay my bills very comfortably. I realized we spend more time at work than we do at home, and I believe it is so important to enjoy what you do. There is no perfect job, however one that makes you feel proud and happy, is a job that feels more like a hobby than a chore. Additional to mental health and happiness is financial security. I found myself going further into debt each year. I needed to find a job where I could thrive, not just survive.

It was during this time that my best friend Matt purchased a house and started home renovations. Together we tore apart and rebuilt a kitchen, 2 bathrooms and finished a basement that required framing, drywall, mudding, electrical and finishing touches. It was the hours I spent working on this home that ignited my passion for working with my hands. It was the beginning of my new journey.

My time spent as a Child and Youth Worker provided me with the knowledge and know how, to find programs and resources available to help women get into the trades however this was still a big challenge. I started researching and found a free government funded pre-apprenticeship program offered though the YWCA Hamilton for Machining and applied. I did not know what a machinist was, but I knew any education and resume building experience would be a benefit. 

I was accepted into the program in 2018 and successfully completed it along with a 6-month co-op at Arcelor Mittal Dofasco in 2019. I enjoyed machining, and after my co-op finished, my job and employer sponsorship search began. The next several months I applied for every possible machinist position available, on all job platforms, and removed and changed content on my resume to appear less female and continued to find myself jobless. However, I do understand some of the challenges that machine shops may encounter when hiring a woman. The changes they may have to make to accommodate a woman (such as a washroom) could be costly, particularly for small shops.

During my job search the YWCA released the 2019 pre-apprenticeship programs and electrical was a new one added to the list. Knowing I enjoyed electrical and thinking that there may be more job availability and security in that field I applied. I was accepted into the program in 2019 and successfully completed it later that year. These programs arranged for guest speakers and additional training to help ensure our success. The IBEW Local 105 Hamilton was one of these parties and they sent guest speakers, and facilitated Lock Out, Tag Out and Working and Heights Training. I was able to network throughout this program and show my potential to the IBEW. So, when I completed the program, I reached out to the local and forwarded my resume and qualifications in hopes they would take me on.  I am extremely grateful that they signed me as an electrical apprentice and gave me a chance to be successful.

What has the industry taught you?

I genuinely love my job, and being an Electrical Apprentice keeps my physically, and mentally healthy, all while helping me stay financially secure. I feel challenged, engaged, and proud of the work I do. There is an amazing sense of pride and accomplishment you get when you finish a project and can say; I built that. I now have the confidence to take on different at home projects and repair it didn’t have before. During COVID-19 I have learned how to change my car oil, spark plugs, filters and breaks. This has allowed me to save a few bucks while using higher quality products and filters, than what is typically used at a random shop. I am not afraid to pick up a new tool and try something different, and this has helped increased my self confidence and self-esteem. No two projects are 100% alike in the trades and inevitably I learn something new almost every day I go to work. Because of this I have developed the courage to try new things, fall, stand back up, and repeat until success; confidence is built by competence, and this is the formula. Nothing feels better than being able to say, I helped build that!!!! Being in the skilled trades means I get paid well, all while getting a healthy day’s exercise. Exercise is so important for both the physical and mental health of humans, and it is a natural benefit of the skilled trades.

Did you have a mentor? What did you learn?

I admire the woman that came before me and all the efforts they went through to make it easier for me to enter the trades. I have joined a recent mentorship program as a Mentee and hope to find some more inspiring trades woman there! I entered the trades during Covid, this has limited my networking and potential exposure to other woman, and opportunities.

What three things would you tell your younger self?

One important thing I have learned over the years, not just in construction. I always welcome and encourage feedback. I cannot change or make better something I do not know needs attention. But remember folks there is a difference between constructive and destructive feedback. Some people find it difficult to receive feedback, but perhaps try taking on this point of view.

Feedback can be both hard to give and receive. As a leader it can be difficult to tell someone you care about things could be done better. Consider this... when someone is still making efforts to give you 'constructive feedback,' it means they still care about you, your growth and development!!! It's when the feedback stops rolling in, or worse it turns to destructive feedback, that I would be concerned!

Now you must remember the worksite is your classroom and you have more control of your learning than you know. That is why it is so important to advocate for yourself and your own learning. Practice makes perfect, and it is okay to get placed on the same job for a period of time. However, if you remain doing the same task for months, or even years, it may be time to speak up and ask for something new to learn. Don’t forget at the end of your apprenticeship, you are required to write a test, and getting stuck doing the same thing does not help you prepare for this. You would be surprised how fast the years fly by. Additional to advocating for yourself it is important to ask questions. Keep in mind it is your job not to know everything and saying so is better than pretending you do. Remember this is your learning, your experience! There really is no stupid question and it is your job to be curious, ask and learn. 

The most important pieces of advice I can give you is your safety is number one! As the newest person on the job site, you are statistically the most likely to get hurt. Always double check everything; do not trust that someone else has ‘made it safe’. Also, some things are outside of your control, as you learn how to use different tools and equipment you also learn the risks involved and how to avoid/prepare for them. For example, when drilling through concrete, you want to be aware of potential rebar that could cause the drill to twist and pull. But what is within your control is PPE. PPE is not affective if it’s not worn properly or not worn at all!

What can you see for the future of the building industry?

I aspire to be a great leader, teacher, Journeyman, Forman and role model for the industry. I am so passionate about people, learning development and growth of people that I am find myself in these roles. I believe there is potential for change and growth as an industry including its culture, this is where I see myself contributing most. Using my previous skill set and job experiences as a Child and Youth worker along with my business/training I want to become the best Journeyman and mentor I can be. When it is my turn I want to help teach the next generation, and mold them into young leaders too.

Do you have any experiences of being a woman in the industry?

Actions often speak louder than words and being a woman in the skilled trades today means that I am still a minority, underestimated and a trailblazer for other women to follow. It means I must be strong, self-aware, and realistic that I am still in a man’s world. I must be patient and not push change but be an ambassador and advocate for change. I must be persistent, work hard and show the young woman of tomorrow that they too can do whatever they desire. If you can see it, then it is easier to believe you can be it. 

Although my experience is limited to only a short few years, I can say it can be lonely at times as the only woman on a construction site. But it also is so rewarding knowing you helped build that and had the courage to walk back into work every day where so many other wouldn’t. 

Why and what can we do to encourage more women to join the industry?

Sadly, our young people see more actors and actress than woman skilled trades workers. This could lead them to believe that being a movie star is a more realistic career choice than being a skilled trades worker; and we all know there are more construction workers that actors in the world. It is said if a child is introduced to something before they are 8 years of age than they are more likely to consider it as a viable and realistic career path; if you can see it, than you can be it! I want to help be this change for young people and inspire the next generation. It is through education we can start to make a change and will see more women choose this industry. If you look around there are so many books with Male leads or promoting the skilled trades as a Man’s job, but not many with female leads or empowering.  For example, my nephew who is 5 and will say "he wants to grow up to be a construction worker like auntie Shannon" (the only registered trades person in the family) still runs to the men (who are both bankers) in the house to help fix things because of learnt behavior. I hope to inspire some change and alter the perspective of the skilled trades through education and entertainment and a new different children’s book.  So I have written two children’s books one is focused on electrical and promoting the skilled trades, and the other is skilled trades and girl empowered. I hope we can introduce the idea of empowered, and independent woman to young girls everywhere. 

Shannon Tymosko
Electrical Apprentice
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)

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