Meet Shannon Tymosko

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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 Shannon Tymosko. Shannon, aka @lady.voltz, is a 2nd year Electrical Apprentice and Skilled Trades Ambassador. Based in Hamilton, Ontario, she originally completed a Child and Youth work diploma where she found a passion for people, mental health, and learning. Fast forward a decade, Shannon is now in the electrical field with the confidence, independence, skills, and community she had always dreamed of, along with financial freedom to thrive and not just survive – all thanks to the skilled trades. She is incredibly thankful for everything she’s learned, and her journey has led her to prioritize advocacy and become a vocal spokesperson for the industrial trades so that everyone can feel welcome and empowered.

Photo Credit: Shannon Tymosko

What led you to pursue a career in the trades, and specifically your chosen industry?

I did go the typical college university route that the majority of us go on. I went for accounting and hated the first year, then switched to Child and Youth work, finished my diploma, and got a job. It was really hard to find a good paying job in that industry, so I maintained my college job, which was working at a financial institution, but it didn’t allow me to thrive. At this point I’m 29, and I still have 30 years of employment ahead of me, so I need to find something I love. Around this time, my best friend bought a house and he wanted to renovate the kitchen the very next day after he got the keys. So we ripped out the kitchen and proceeded into the bathroom, finishing the basement… so many different things. Through this experience, I was like, “I like this. I think I can do this if this was a job. I’d like to get paid for this.” I just fell in love with working with my hands!

People always ask me, “Why electrical?” And the truth is, there’s no exciting answer. I think it’s important that we’re honest about that. It was the default, and it’s  what was in front of me. I researched programs that could help transition me or give me some sort of resume. I found a pre-apprenticeship program through the YMCA for machining, as they didn’t have electrical at the time. I applied, I got in, and I finished the 26-week program. Then I spent months looking for work with no luck. Time passed, and the programs that I participated in a year before came out again, but now there was an electrical pre-apprenticeship option. I begged them to please let me do a second one, because I knew the opportunity was so amazing. They let me in, I finished the program, and I applied right to the IBEW at the end of the Co-Op, and they accepted me!

What has your journey been like since you started?

I finished the electrical pre-apprenticeship in 2019, so my experience has probably been a little hindered because of the pandemic with things. I was very fortunate to be put on a construction site that lasted for so long, which was a hotel in Burlington, Ontario. Watching it go from concrete walls to bedroom suites and come to life…. It’s so rewarding to know that you contributed to that building. I feel like we lose our inner child, and as a kid, I loved building with LEGOs, so that’s what I get every single day. I still play with tools, I still get to have a sticker collection, because it’s cool to collect stickers, but I get paid to do it. 

Photo Credit: Shannon Tymosko

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

I feel like I’ve learned so many things about myself, and I didn’t realize that I would enjoy so many aspects of my job. I do really love to highlight the financial freedom that the skilled trades can offer. Originally, I picked a career that got me this minimum wage job with a little piece of paper where there was lots of competition, but even working at that financial institution after a decade, I was only making $20 an hour. I didn’t think I’d still be 33 and living off of a single income. It was a challenge. 

In the skilled trades, I make more now as a second year apprentice with only 2 years invested than I did during my entire 20’s! I have a pension, and I have great benefits. There’s just so much more potential to make money. In Canada, you get paid to do the education piece, then you get grants when you’re successful, and they set you up so that you walk away debt-free and with a good paying job. I had $26K worth of student loan debt from college 2 years ago, and it’s down to $10K now. I was slowly getting myself into a pickle on the other career journey. Now, I have the ability to thrive and not just survive.

What are the most challenging parts of your work? 

I feel like I personally still struggle with going to that next construction site. The job is always the same in the sense that you can figure it out, but the people can make or break it. I’ve been to one job site that’s kind of hindered me, and I’m only a couple years in, so I still question myself. Then there’s the fact that I’ve been the only female on my construction site, and that can be lonely. I thought that I could become one of the boys, but I will never actually be part of the boy’s club. Many of these men have only worked with men, and the women that they interact with are the roles of wives, sisters, mothers, etc. It’s about the environment and how we’ve been conditioned to be. So each person has their own perception of what I present, whatever that may be. I think that as more women enter the trades, that will change. 

I’ve struggled with my own mental health throughout my life. I think we all do. I’ve heard a few times in my life, “You just need to be a little bit more confident or have more self-esteem.” People say it like it’s so easy to find. It’s like, “Yeah, I’ll go pick it up next to the pineapple! Thanks for the tip.” But how do you actually build confidence? I had a counselor once say, “Confidence is built by competence.” As humans, we stopped clapping for ourselves, we stopped rejoicing in these little successes that are actually moments of confidence-building. I love the skilled trades because every day, I shock myself with what I can do. It makes me feel a little more confident about my abilities. It’s the tools and the skills that are very freeing and competence-building, and great for my mental health. The skilled trades give you exercise on a daily basis, even if you don’t want it, but it’s exactly what I need. 

Photo Credit: Shannon Tymosko

What does it take to be successful at what you do?

I think math and science will help you just to get a base. However, people are always afraid that they can’t do the job because it’s going to be so much math and science. It’s not like you’re gonna step on a construction site and have to know how to do this advanced math tomorrow. There’s somebody with you who is coaching and training you – that’s the whole point about being an apprentice!

As someone who’s done training and also worked in management, most people are trainable. You’re gonna feel awkward at first, but eventually it becomes natural. What’s important to bring every day are those soft skills, like punctuality, communication, teamwork, asking questions, etc. It’s important to be someone who wants to be present, because employers will say that the hardest thing is finding just good, hard workers. If you can show up, be present, and be eager to learn, you can be molded into anything great. There are different types of strengths across the trades, and also between men and women, and how it comes through at work – and that’s okay. We need both. Our strengths complement each other.

What have you learned about yourself from being in the trades?

As I get older, I get more spiritual. I’m not a religious person, but I’m spiritual. I’ve had a couple of loved ones pass away recently, and the one thing I discovered about electricity… Do you see electricity? Maybe sometimes you can see an arc, but most times, you just have to have faith that it’s there, and that the electrons are going to flow. It’s really made me believe in energy, and that these people that I love dearly have gone to better places. Their energy is still here. I can’t see it, but I have faith that it’s kind of there.

What are your thoughts on the state of the trades right now industry-wise?

Technically-skilled trades workers are retiring, so there’s a demand for workers. We can replace physical bodies, but can you replace that knowledge? For electrical specifically, we have seen technology change so much over the years. There’s different aluminum wiring or other older stuff that someone like me would have no idea what I’m looking at, because they don’t teach it in school. Why would they? We need the older generation to pass down that knowledge if that’s not happening. My friend told me that a manufacturer retired all of their workers. And then all of a sudden, once they gave them this great package, they realized that none of the new hires know what they’re doing. So they made a deal with those retired workers, brought them back, paid them double to transfer that knowledge and get things running. They realized that they left themselves with no skill. Labor and skill are two different things.

The dynamic of the journeyman-apprentice relationship is a teacher-student relationship. The journeyman needs to be invested and know what they’re doing a little bit. If you throw an apprentice with a journeyman who has no care in the world, you are setting them both up for failure. It’s important that we are training the next generation, but that we give direction to those who will become the teachers as well.

What’s also important to mention is that the current state of culture in the trades is horrible for everybody. People talk about a demand for the skilled trades, but does anybody look at the retention rates? How many sign up, and how many drop out? One man told me someone came up to him once and chopped off his ponytail. I would lose my marbles! And that’s a man – that’s not even a woman. I’m sure there are women who have even worse experiences than that, but the men are still treated poorly, so how do you expect that industry to change? There’s still this old school mentality of tough love. No, tough love is abuse, actually. Do a little bit of research and you will find that what you’re doing is actually the exact opposite of what you want. 

Photo Credit: Shannon Tymosko

Any advice for those thinking about taking up an industrial trade?

The verbiage and terminology has been the hardest thing for me. Everything has like two names and three nicknames, and who knows what each person is going to use. It can be very confusing, so you feel like a toddler learning new words trying to figure it out, but don’t be afraid to ask. I have no problem asking, and often I become more successful on a construction site. Take initiative on your end to make sure you know what you’re doing. 

Be persistent. Employers don’t want to take on green people, but that’s not helping our industry. It can be very discouraging to send out so many applications, but if you can get your foot in the door by talking to the department you’re interested in and asking about if there’s an apprenticeship coming up…. that’s the easiest way to get in. 

I feel like people don’t try anymore. They sit on their screens, and they’re like, “Oh, I don’t think I like that.” Well, how do you know? You’re robbing yourself of opportunities. The skilled trades is a very profitable place to be, and women especially are really good at making business happen. There’s so much possibility. Women are go-getters, and we aren’t here to putz around. Any woman who’s stepped into the skilled trades is gonna make things happen.

Last but not least: what’s your favorite way to spend your free time?

I do a lot of advocacy stuff. I’m an outdoorsy person, so I enjoy kayaking, canoeing, camping, or hiking when I can. Now that it’s wintertime, I’m hoping that the skating rinks are cold enough!

Our thanks to Shannon for making time to share her story and industry insights with us.

You can follow and support Shannon on the following platforms:

Website: www.shannontymosko.com

IG: https://www.instagram.com/lady.voltz/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shannon-tymosko-b160b4a7/

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@lady.voltz?lang=en

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lady.voltz

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