Tales of the Trades shares just some of the millions of stories in the skilled industrial trades, shining a bright light on the hard-working tradesmen and women who build, operate and maintain the world we live in. We also focus on the individuals and organizations working hard to advance industrial sectors and ensure their success over the coming decades.
Meet Kendra. Kendra is an Electrical Apprentice in British Columbia, Canada. She grew up in a blue collar family, which led her to take trades classes throughout high school, where she ended up falling in love with electrical. For the past two years, Kendra has been working in electrical with a passion for learning and improving in her trade. Thanks to the support of her coworkers and family, Kendra feels confident that she can tackle any challenges on the job and pursue new specialties to help strengthen her skillset.
What led you to pursue a career in the trades, and specifically your chosen industry?
I wanted to be a veterinarian, but my sister was going through the carpentry program in our high school when I was in grade five. That year, I was able to play around with little battery operated circuits, so I did that and I was like, “I want to be an electrician.” So I waited and waited and waited. My sister graduated from her carpentry program, and she told our career facilitator that I was starting and that I wanted to be an electrician, so he was already looking out for me. I got into high school, but everything was kind of set up for grade eight and nine, so you don’t really have a choice of what you choose. But in grade 10, I had the opportunity to take a discovery trade program with all the trades, and when we got to electrical, I really liked electrical. My sister in law went through that too, which was really nice. I’d say she had a really big impact, as well as my dad and my mom – they’re both in the trades.
I went through this program where you basically take a year off from high school to go to this college course, then had to go back to high school and finish high school before I could actually go out and work. The logic is going through the trades first. If you choose another career down the road, you don’t end up liking it, you still have that ticket that you can fall back on if you really need it, which is what they really push for all the students.
What’s it like having family members that work in different trades?
My dad’s a drywaller, and my mom used to work with my dad. It’s been an ongoing joke, our family dinners are often based on all of us being in the trades. I’ll look at my sister because she’s a carpenter and say, “Anyone can swing a hammer” and she’s like, “Anyone can put wires together!” My dad’s like, “Well, no one can put up board.” It’s probably one of the best feelings, all of us just teasing each other about being in separate trades.
What excites you about your daily work?
The most exciting would be the people that I work with. I was always told it’s really hard for women to be in the trades, which it definitely is like that – you have those people in the trades – but the guys that I work with are so great. They make everyday worth working. I’d also say being able to test my limits to see what I’m willing to do. The fact that you put two wires together and hook it up to something, and something turns on, you’re learning about how it works. I want to go towards a specialty. I’d like to see if I can get into ship work and even power lines somehow, because I think that’d be really cool to work on. I want to explore and see what I can do.
What’s the most rewarding part and the most challenging part of your work?
Finally seeing a finished job. You always see those pictures online, it’s like, “I built that building, I built that building.” Just being able to tell people what you did. That’s probably one of the best feelings.
One of the most difficult would be that I’m dyslexic, so the math for the electrical is definitely more complicated for me. But even the schooling that I had, the teachers are so great with being there to support you. They offered to read me the test, because I get test anxiety and I start flipping things. And the owner of the company that I work with, I told him I was dyslexic, and he was like, “When we’re labeling circuits, is it going to be okay?” I said, “Yes, it’s gonna be fine! I’ll double check everything before we do anything.” The dyslexia and the heavy math that comes with the schooling is very difficult for me.
What does it take to be successful at what you do?
I find that staying calm myself helps, and having the employer that I have, they’re really great with trying to make sure that no one feels stressed. They’re there to support you, which is amazing. When I came out of high school, I went straight into this company expecting huge stress, but they made it easy. They’re such an amazing company. I’m still with them today, and I love this company so much. They mean the world to me, because they made my career more than just my career – they made it like my lifestyle.
What types of challenges do you face in your work?
I am really good at certain aspects. Recently I got more into pipe bending, which takes more time for my brain to process and visualize, because you can bend the pipe the wrong way. Then you have to redo the entire piece because it’s completely wrong. Being able to ask my employer or even my coworkers for help, and not feeling judged by them because I’m asking. It might be a very reasonable question, but you feel uncomfortable asking them a question. It makes me feel comfortable that I can continue asking them questions, because every job is almost always different for me. I’ve had wood frame buildings, I’ve done high rises. I’m currently working on a seismic upgrade for school. It’s so different between them all, because there’s different elements that are so job specific that you need to do.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do?
There are misconceptions that anyone can do trades work, you just need to have that schooling so that you know what you can do and what you can’t do. I wouldn’t be able to do the job that a plumber would be able to do. There’s schooling behind that. Anyone can put wires together on a switch, but knowing how to put those wires together and make it operable is important. You don’t want to blow your breaker, you don’t want to do something wrong, and you don’t want to short the circuit.
What are your thoughts on the state of the trades right now industry-wise?
I definitely say that the interest for trades is going up. I’ve noticed that people that I went to high school with went into universities and colleges, but then they started going back to the skilled trades. Even if you start in the skilled trades, you build up the money to go back to university, so you’re still able to have that ticket. If further down the road, you don’t really necessarily like the career path that you chose, you still have that ticket.
Sporty people sometimes feel pushed to go into office jobs, but when you have athletes and you shove them into an office job, it’s not going to work out. They’re not going to enjoy their career because they’re sitting down all day. For athletes that need to move, I find that the skilled trades are best for them because it gets them moving.
What important lessons have you learned while working in the trades?
It definitely made me able to find my voice. I’m more confident, and I’m able to speak up – I can speak my mind to people. If I need to stand up for myself, I’m able to stand up for myself. And when something doesn’t feel right, it’s nice to have people speak things through with. My confidence and being able to speak up was probably one of the main things that I gathered from this and seeing what I’m able to test my limits in and to see how far I can go in my career.
Any advice for those thinking about taking up an industrial trade?
The trades are what made me who I am today. It’s a part of me. I’d say go for it! It’s probably the best decision I’ve made. In order to go into any career, you’re going to want to learn and continue to learn, and it’s going to be more rewarding when you finish a task.
Last but not least: what’s your favorite way to spend your free time?
I like painting, it’s relaxing. Just chilling, going on hikes, stuff like that. Also, even when I’m out of work, I’m still socializing with my coworkers.
Our thanks to Kendra for making time to share her story and industry insights with us.
You can follow Kendra on Instagram at @electriciankendra.