They say necessity is the mother of invention, this is true for most tradeswomen. When Tiana Bird’s grandfather needed a plumber in his home of Hollow Water First Nation, and there were no local plumbers available, Tiana said to herself, “I can do that!” While many First Nations communities have trained tradespeople for a variety of work, not all have the services one would find in a larger centre. When Tiana recognized a need for someone with the knowledge and expertise to install, repair, and maintain residential plumbing in her community, she made the decision to go to school to gain those skills.
Making the Right Career Choice
Yet, plumbing wasn’t necessarily Tiana’s number one choice; it had to compete with other ideas she had when she started career planning.
“I had three different areas I wanted to explore: Manitoba Hydro, the military, and trades. I had narrowed down what I wanted to do with my career and took the steps to find out more,” she says.
Tiana spent some time working with Manitoba Hydro learning about opportunities in electrical and gas including how gas lines work, repair and maintenance of furnaces, and doing meter readings.
With the military, Tiana had the opportunity to take part in a year-long Aboriginal Leadership Opportunity Year (ALOY) program.
The program took place in Kingston, Ontario so Tiana packed up and moved away from home. The opportunity was thrilling, but also a little nerve-wracking for a young woman from a small community. Over the course of the year she undertook rigorous military training and attended school at the Royal Military College of Canada.
“I was exposed to a whole new lifestyle that was very exciting and also very scary,” says Tiana.
It wasn’t always easy being there, far from home. She experienced challenges like loneliness, meeting the physical demands of training, and managing her academics. Being a determined young woman, Tiana persevered to overcome these challenges and successfully completed the program. Her participation with ALOY helped to develop great skills including leadership, communication, problem solving, and teamwork. While the military stream was attractive to her, she realized her home community of Hollow Water needed people with trade skills. This solidified her decision to take the path that has led to today.
Walking the Path to the Red Seal
In 2017, Tiana started her journey towards the goal of becoming a Red Seal plumber by applying to Red River College’s Introduction to Trades Program. This five-month preparatory program provides Indigenous students with hands-on exposure to several trades including automotive technician, carpentry, collision Repair, and plumbing. Upon completion of the program, Tiana knew the plumbing trade was for her, so she enrolled in the college’s Pre-Employment Plumbing program. This program helped her develop the knowledge and skills needed to install and repair piping systems in residential and commercial buildings.
Tiana recalls it strange, being the only woman in the class. However, as she and her classmates got to know one another, she was just another student. Graduating in January 2020, Tiana reached out to the Office to Advance Women Apprentices Manitoba with her immediate concern of finding an employer to apprentice with. The office assisted her with her resume, connected her with employers, and undertook interview preparation with her. The office also introduced her to the union which works with the piping trades – UA254. The office maintained regular contact with Tiana and continued to follow up with employers and the union to assist her in connecting with an apprenticeship. The call finally came and she was hired by UA254 which went on to indenture her. Now Tiana is a Level 1 plumbing apprentice and has had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects.
“I’ve been able to do some interesting work, work with great people, and take on new things. I have so much more to learn but I’m enjoying the work,” says Tiana. She did a new installation in a seven-story apartment project and has been working on construction of the Royal Aviation Museum. One of the things she has enjoyed most about working with the union is the variety of work she has been able to do.
Confidence Comes With Support
Like many First Nations people, Tiana had to leave her community for post-secondary training and employment after completing high school. However, she’s gaining the skills and knowledge to be able to bring back to her community one day. Her advice to other young women pursuing a career in trades is to not feel intimidated by being the only female in your class or at work. “Work hard, learn everything you can, and demonstrate commitment to your craft. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone but yourself,” Tiana says.
If you’re looking for support – from educational programs to the job hunt – get in touch with the Office to Advance Women Apprentices and experience for yourself the many ways we help women in the trades succeed.