J♀urneyman is a national program that promotes, supports and mentors women in the skilled construction trades.
J♀urneyman™ © 2015 By Jamie McMillan…Journeyman – Women of the Building Trades Journeyman Ironworker – Local 736 Hamilton Ontario Canada
I grew up in Timmins, a small town up in northern Ontario, Canada with my parents and 2 sisters. We owned an old apartment house with a few spare rooms. My parents had big hearts and volunteered endless hours to the church, community, at risk youth, low income families, and so on. They took in foster kids, aboriginal school students, and troubled teens.
They provided a fun-filled loving home to any and all who were in need. As a young teen I remember always being asked to set an extra place setting at the dinner table in case someone in need stopped by or Dad brought someone over for a home cooked meal and warm place to spend a night. In the late 90’s my Mom became terminally ill. Our focus changed from others to her.
Amidst the commotion and hustle bustle of our busy home my parents were also workaholics. Neither could sit still for more than a minute. Our home was continuously under construction and there was always something going on that I was invited to participate in. I’d hang out with Mom doing demolition, wiring, and painting; or I’d tag along with Dad hanging dry wall, building things, and collecting/piling firewood.
It took me years to realize the impact my upbringing would have on my life.
In school I had a hard time concentrating and sitting still. I was never book smart. I was always a mechanically inclined hands on learner. The thought of college or university made my toes curl. In the early 90’s the education system was heading into the ‘computer’ era. I had no interest. I wanted to be a miner like my father but was discouraged by its absence of women. My mother (a nurse) encouraged me to pursue a career in health care. In 1994 I applied to the shortest program offered at the community college and became a personal support worker.
For the next 8 years I worked in health care part time and served food and drinks at various restaurants and pubs to make some extra cash. After a move to the big city I became extremely unsatisfied with my career path and found myself sinking into a depression. I didn’t want to go back to school but I knew I needed a change. In 2002 I began an ironworking apprenticeship after being inspired over a curbside conversation with an old classmate who had completed an apprenticeship. The opportunity to earn while I learned with hands on training and great wages was perfect for me.
In a few short weeks I fell in love with my job. I loved the physical and mental challenge, the constant changing/evolving workload, and being one of the boys. I’d wished I had known about trades in high school.
I became extremely passionate about promoting opportunities in the skilled trades to others. I began networking with those in trades communities across Canada and the U.S.A. to better understand and identify the needs and challenges for outreach and recruitment. I built relationships with both current trades men, women, and retirees that offered historical perspectives dating back to the 1970's. After much research and a few brainstorming sessions I solidified my program ideas and visions and officially found J♀urneyman™ in 2012.
J♀urneyman is a grass roots initiative represented by journeyman and/or apprentices. It creates awareness to influence those of all ages and walks of life to consider careers in construction trades through mentorship, outreach, and support. The target outreach is schools, charities, community outreach, at risk youth, single parents, low-income families, women in trades, visible minorities, etc.
Although it offers gender-neutral programs the specific focus is to educate and encourage women to pursue opportunities in the construction trades. The objective is to speak honestly about the opportunities and challenges of various career paths in the industry. Trades are not for everyone so it’s important not to sugar coat them. However, mechanical advantages and modern equipment have made trades easier for everyone. Safety plays a significant role in promoting job site awareness. Employers are providing proper training, PPE, and equipment that is ergonomically friendly to do our jobs properly with no risk of injury. We are working smarter, not harder by using our brains, not our backs.
Although some people feel the name J♀urneyman is politically incorrect and have questioned it as the program name I am proud of it. Journeyman is a STATUS, not a GENDER. It’s a certificate we earn from long hours and hard work; I respect and embrace it as a gender-neutral term. I’m not looking for special treatment. I want to be treated with respect and given equal opportunity and recognition.
In the beginning I had big hopes and dreams but no money to run a successful program or develop the company. I began to look to industry for funding and support to film a documentary about Women in Trades, hoping that it could be used as a platform to raise awareness and bring in revenue that could be used to turn my ideas into reality. I could hire a business strategist, build programs, develop a website, create marketing materials, and eventually hire a team of tradeswomen representatives to work tradeshows, events, charities, and promote the trades in many different aspects including videos and presentations for school kids and so on.
I began to form alliances within industry, organizations, and schools. My sister Liza made a call to my hometown newspaper to set up an interview that made the front page headline. That led to a series of media exposure from broadcast news, magazines, and a commercial. The sisters in the trades advocated strongly on my behalf. Within a short time social media was buzzing with positive posts and feedback.
In January of 2013 I entered into an exclusive joint partnership with the Canadian Building Trades Union (CBTU) office. Together with their resources, my ideas and visions, and the support and funding of the 14 International Building Trades Unions across Canada J♀urneyman became the national women in trades program under their umbrella. The program proved to be a great success. In early 2014 they hired a national team of amazing tradeswomen to advocate as representatives on behalf of the program and the Canadian trades unions. After a 2-year partnership I have decided to move on from the exclusive partnership with the Canadian Building Trades Unions to expand and form new partnerships to better serve the founding principles of J♀urneyman.
Currently, I continue to take on skills-intensive projects as a proud union ironworker/welder, and represent J♀urneyman™ as the founder/primary spokesperson through outreach and advocacy. On my days off I attend local, provincial, national, and international events often as volunteer, keynote speaker, or panel speaker. I often run workshops, work trades show booths, or advocate and promote in any way I can. I work closely with the Canadian Welding Association/Foundation, the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), Skills Ontario/Canada, and many other organizations, schools, and programs. I’m always searching for new partnerships and opportunity to better serve my mission, vision, and strategic plan for growth.
It’s been an amazing few years. I can’t even begin to express how positively I have been affected. Advocating’s made a huge impact on my life. Along my journey I often questioned my true motives. In the beginning I viewed it more as a job that could one day provide a comfortable living/salary. Although it was important for me to educate young men and women about opportunity it wasn’t until I began doing volunteer community outreach with at risk youth, low income families, and single parents that I truly started to feel the blessings that came along with selflessly helping people. I started to recall my upbringing and recognized that my life’s path was destined to find a way back to my roots.
I want to give special thanks to those of you that continue to support, encourage, and stand by me in solidarity. You are the reason why J♀urneyman is a success. I depend on my friends, family, and those of you in the trade’s community to share my story and promote my work. At times it gets hard and I want to give up but I have a strong network of reinforcement troops that are quick to offer mentorship and reassurance when I need it. I want to make each of you proud through my passion, outreach, and advocacy.
Together we are making a difference and creating positive change.