At the ripe young age of 27, a single mom with a five-year-old boy, Jenna Steele decided to take control of her life and completely turn it around.
“After high school, I had a series of pretty much dead-end jobs, but then, while I was working for $15 an hour in a real hard landscaping job, I heard a radio commercial for a program called Women Building Futures (WBF),” she says.
And that started her on a pathway that is opening her eyes to a wide variety of trades that she could pursue to better her life, a pathway that, for two weeks at least, led to a work experience assignment on the shop floor at Fleet Services’ Westwood fabrication technologies operation.
The City is a big believer of apprenticeship training, and it’s participating in the WBF pre-apprenticeship training program for the first time, says Don Fitzgerald, Fleet Services’ director of municipal fleet maintenance. Fleet Services regularly trains students under the Registered Apprenticeship Program.
“We have a responsibility to give back to the community. When we help young people along on their career paths, we’re also helping to supply the Alberta economy with more highly skilled workers … so we’re giving back in two ways,” he explains.
The WBF program delivers an intensive 17-week program that gives them just enough workplace exposure and hands-on training to enable them to decide what trade to pursue with a formal apprenticeship.
They begin with two weeks of certification training in everything from fall protection and H2S Alive training to First Aid/CPR and Confined space training.
Then it’s two months of hands-on skill training in basic tools, carpentry, electrical, plumbing, pipefitting, welding, sheet metal, blueprint reading and basic rigging.
That’s followed by two weeks of workplace cultural awareness training, an intensive catch-up course in trades math and science – there’s way more math and science in the trades than most people realize, says Jenna – then two weeks of work experience. Jenna’s work experience included time at Fleet Services’ fabrication shop working alongside journeyman welders.
Unlike apprentices, program participants are not paid, but Jenna was able to claim EI to keep feeding her family.
“My time with Fleet is the first time I’ve been in a shop, and so far it’s an excellent experience. Everyone’s been really nice and very helpful…I’ve learned a lot.”
She’s a big fan of the program, since it’s her direct route to a job that will not only pay her far more than she earned before, but will also give her a strong sense of personal satisfaction.
“The money will give me a lot more options in the future as my son grows, but I also really enjoy working with my hands to create things,” says Jenna.
“These days I get out of bed and I say “Yea! I get to build something new today!”
Jenna Steele says her experience working with ‘friendly, really helpful’ welders at Fleet Services’ fabrication technologies shop was a positive one.