Trade HERizons put Charlottetown woman on new career path

Mary MacKay
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Susan Dixon of Charlottetown changed her life direction after completing a recent Trade HERizons trades and industrial technology career exploration course presented by Women’s Network P.E.I.

Nontraditional career exploration program for women helped Susan Dixon learn a new profession

Susan Dixon had no idea that when she signed up with the Trade HERizons trades and industrial technology career exploration course that it was going to result in a monumental shift in her life.

Not only is this 44-year-old Charlottetown mother of three now taking steps toward a career in engineering, she also experienced an epiphany of sorts during one of the program’s personal exploration exercises.

“What I thought was going to be the worst thing — the whole self-exploration (component) — turned out to be the best thing ...,” Dixon says with a smile.

“When I was on (the Adventure Group’s R.O.P.E.S — Rite of Passage Experience program) I was like ‘OK I’m going to let go of all of that (negativity) and I’m going to step forward and start something new.’ That was the best part; it totally changed my life because I truly decided — 25 feet in the air — that I was done putting myself down, that I was done being the one person who was going to stop me from my dream and that I was going to have a dream ....”

Trade HERizons, which has been presented by Women’s Network P.E.I. (WNPEI) since 2010, provides participants with the opportunity to explore non-traditional trades and industrial technologies they can pursue in the future, such as plumbing, welding, aircraft gas engine technician, electrician, wind turbine technician and more.

The no-cost program is now an 11-week career exploration course that is open to women, typically from ages 22 to 45.

They can be EI eligible or non-EI eligible. For those without EI or income support, there is a stipend available.

“A lot of women haven’t had exposure to trades or industrial technology .... But maybe in the back of their mind they’ve thought it might be interesting but haven’t actually tried it out. So this is an opportunity to (do that),” says Catherine Ronahan, Trade HERizons project manager.

This introduction includes six hands-on visits to Holland College, three of which are pre-selected — gas turbine engines, precision machining, welding — which are because of market demand and past successes of women in these trades and technologies. The remaining three trade introductions are ones that top the participants’ choice list.

Dixon was one of 18 participants in the latest Trade HERizons’ course that wrapped up on Dec. 15.

“I’ve always been kind of handy, working with wood, things like that. I just can do things. I don’t know why. I’m just mechanically inclined, trades inclined. But I never, ever thought I’d actually pursue a career in (the trades and technology industry) because it just wasn’t what girls did,” says Dixon.

Some of the Trade HERizons’ career exploration components occur in-class with visits from guest speakers, such as employers and women who are currently working in trades and technology.

There are also career exposure visits to sites such as Maritime Electric and Vector Aerospace and a tour of Holland College’s waterfront campus to see what the actual programs are about.

Also included in the program is an employability component that highlights job search skills, such as writing good resumes and how to network.

On a personal development level, there were communication and conflict resolution skills classes, goal setting and action planning sessions, fitness classes with two students in Holland College’s sport and leisure management program to build core strength and the Adventure Group’s R.O.P.E.S program.

“And then we do the academics behind that career exposure, so we do a refresher around math, reading, vocabulary and document use, which are all really important in trades and industrial technology,” Ronahan says.

When Dixon enrolled in Trade HERizons, her mind was set on a career as a technician in the aerospace industry, the hands-on aspect of which interested her.

However, through the academic aspects of the course she realized that, despite her thoughts to the contrary, she was highly mathematically inclined.

“In this program I finally realized I don’t give myself enough credit. I sat down one night and thought am I capable, honestly am I capable (of something more)? And I realized once again that I was selling myself short, and I don’t think I want to do that anymore,” she says.

“Not that the technician job is not a great job, that’s not what I think. It’s that I think that I am able to do something more and why shouldn’t I push myself to do something more at this point?”

This month Dixon begins the process of upgrading her education. Her goal is enrol in the construction technology program at Holland College in September with the intent of becoming an engineer.

“Everything happens for a reason,” she says, “and I think if you’re open to it, it will come to you.”

Trade HERizons is funded in whole or part through the Canada-Prince Edward Island Labour Market Development Agreement and/or the Labour Market Agreement.).

Organizations: Holland College, Adventure Group, Maritime Electric Vector Aerospace

Geographic location: Charlottetown

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  • FYI
    January 07, 2014 - 08:15

    "Her goal is enrol in the construction technology program at Holland College in September with the intent of becoming an engineer." If she plans on becoming an engineer, taking this program at HC will only delay her an extra two years. Maybe she should consider taking the diploma program at UPEI or completing a technology program at another college where she could actually get credit for the courses taken. As far as I know, there are no university between Ont. and Nfld. which will credit HC students. But there are colleges in Atlantic Canada where the same universities will give credit to graduates.

  • don
    January 06, 2014 - 13:49

    i'm it is only in ch'town?