Blazing a Trail for Women in Trades
What does it mean to be a trailblazer? It takes passion, hard work, being able to overcome the odds, and make an impact for the people coming behind you. That’s exactly what Amanda Rees has done and it’s why she’s the winner of the second annual Trailblazer Award from the Office to Advance Women Apprentices.
“I’m a bit modest about what I’ve done,” says millwright apprentice Amanda. “I don’t generally like to talk about myself. I talk about my experiences … but as a Trailblazer? I was really surprised actually. I was flattered and I was so appreciative of the people who acknowledged me, of course.”
On International Women’s Day 2021, Amanda, and several other nominees for the award, were acknowledged in a virtual event to celebrate the contributions of women in the trades in Newfoundland and Labrador.
She’s Got the Receipts
Throughout the last few years Amanda has been a mentor to countless young women, has done interviews, radio ads, and a lot of public speaking – to everyone from federal politicians to local Girl Guide troops – on what life is like as a woman in the trades. She’s volunteered with the Office to Advance Women Apprentices, WRDC, and Skills Canada. She’s also sits on her union’s women’s committee.
“When I was nominated I started thinking about the things I’ve done to support women in trades over the years and I realized I’d done a lot,” she says, laughing. “I can’t say I really thought about it. It’s just something I enjoyed doing, but to be recognized for it is not something I thought about I guess.”
A True Superstar
Amanda began her education in visual arts, but changed course after seeing a presentation by Karen Walsh, executive director of the Office to Advance Women Apprentices at a WISE event.
“(Amanda’s) definitely a superstar in her own right when it comes to passion and promotion of women in skilled trades,” Karen says. “She really linked into it and then she came back and talked about it and went on to do Exploring the Trades and then decided she wanted to be a millwright.”
From visual artist to millwright to busy mom and beyond, Amanda’s skillset helps her roll with the punches.
“It totally fits. It really helps when you can think outside the box, especially when things go very wrong,” she says. “I always wanted to work with my hands and I always knew I wanted to do something – for lack of a better term – untraditional.”
At the end of the Exploring the Trades program, Amanda found her calling.
“Everyone was deciding what they wanted to do and choosing different trades and I was in the boat where I wanted to do absolutely everything. … but almost at the end of the program we learned about millwrighting and I found that the millwright program had a lot of the areas I was interested in. They touched on welding, they touched on machine work, they touched on electrical, and there was a mass of different skills besides. So it’s a constant learning experience.”
Follow the Red Seal Road
Mother to three-year-old Jasper, Amanda admits she’s hit a few bumps in the road to Red Seal. Having to take time off for maternity leave and choosing to work locally instead of travelling, set her back a few steps, but it’s been the right path for her and her family.
“It’s taken me a little longer than most people to get to where I am and that’s OK. I’ve accepted that,” she says, beaming when she talks about her son. “He’s been nothing but a blessing to me and he’s made me want to work that much harder to get further in my career. So, yes, it’s hard when I have to go and not be around him. It breaks my heart sometimes. But I do have good support, my husband and my family … I’ve been very lucky.”
On the Job Training
Currently, Amanda is working with Pennecon and the team there has been supportive and helpful – her co-workers proudly nominated her as a Trailblazer.
“I know people do have bad experiences with men in the trades. Fortunately, my experiences haven’t been. I also don’t get offended easily,” she says. “I’ve been able to crack that nut with the people I’ve worked with. And they can accept that I can do the work.
They’ve been good to me. I don’t feel any differently that I’m a woman. I’m just a worker … man or woman I’m here to work and I do a good job and they keep asking me back.Amanda Rees
Karen says it’s these qualities, and Amanda’s continued support of women in the trades which made her the obvious choice for the Trailblazer award, which is designed to recognize women making a difference.
“She speaks for our office on many occasions to women interested in the trades, women working in trades. On site she’s a champion for women in trades, within her union she’s a champion in trades. I think she’s helped people see that an ordinary young woman, a young mom, that if she has a passion for the trades, she can definitely have that as well,” Karen says. “Her journey has been amazing and her passion is definitely amazing.”
Committed to the Cause
The respect is mutual as Amanda says she can’t imagine not having the Office to Advance Women as a part of her life.
“It’s hard to picture my life without them in it because they’ve been such a big part of my life. I’ve gone through a lot and they haven’t just been there to support me in my career. They’ve been there to support me when I’ve been crying my eyes out over personal things as well. I’m very blessed to have so much support when it comes to them and my family.”
Amanda says she only hopes her story has helped even one young woman discover her passion. Karen says Amanda has definitely inspired a lot more than one.
“I’ve never sought to be praised for anything I’ve done. I did it because I believe in the cause, and I believe that more women should be in the trades, and I believe there should be that balance,” Amanda says. “We bring a lot of different perspectives to that job and I think that’s what the trades needs. I’m just happy to be able to talk about it and just be able to give my perspective, and my advice, and just prepare people, women, and anybody, in the trades.”
Want to Blaze a Trail?
Want to become a mentor? Inspired by Amanda’s journey and want to discover the trades for yourself? Reach out to our office and let’s chat about how you can be involved.