Northern Lakes College welding instructor, Tricia McNab, has come a long way since starting her welding journey. Full circle, in fact. Tricia is not only an employee of Northern Lakes College, but she is also an alumni.
Remembering that first day as a student, Tricia was nervous when she started the Welder Apprenticeship program. As a young woman who’d had only one prior experience holding a welding torch, she worried she might not fit into the male-dominated industry.
“Showing up to that first day of class, I was intimidated, for sure. But then I realized that there were a couple other girls in the program. In fact, it turned out there were three of us ladies, and only two guys. I couldn’t believe we outnumbered them! That alone made me feel a little more confident.”
At the time, the Northern Lakes College (NLC) Welder program was brand new at the Slave Lake Campus. “There were a few kinks at first, but the teachers were really supportive. They wanted you to succeed and put in extra effort to ensure you did. The small class sizes were also nice. In my second year, a new instructor named Ken joined the campus. Once he arrived, the program flowed exceptionally smoothly. He changed up the shop and added welders and really improved the whole system. It was a great experience. It showed me how NLC really puts in the effort to help their students succeed.”
But the support of a devoted instructor didn’t end with the development of an excellent program. After realizing the obstacles rural students face in obtaining their ‘B’ Pressure ticket upon the completion of their journeyperson programs, NLC brought the ‘B’ Pressure test to Slave Lake. This meant Tricia did not have to travel to Edmonton to take the test, and her successful completion qualified her to work on pipelines.
“Bringing the [‘B’ Pressure] exam to Slave Lake was a game-changer,” Tricia reports. “Because I could do the test at my home campus, I was able to take a few practices at it beforehand. I really appreciated that!”
Tricia reports that it was difficult to break into the industry at first, but she finally caught a break when she applied at Exact Oil Field, where she continued to enjoy a career in welding for over ten years before leaving her position to begin a family. “It wasn’t easy being the only woman in the field, working with men who didn’t expect you to be there. It was hard. Very hard. I worked my butt off so my employer and every guy I worked with knew I wasn’t going anywhere. I proved to everyone I was there to work.”
While Tricia believes the industry’s culture has become more welcoming to women in the almost 20 years since she entered it, her advice to other tradeswomen is to stay the course. “Don’t quit. If someone tries to knock you down or says you can’t do something, just put your hood down and do the work. Show everyone you can do it. Just keep going. You belong there as much as anybody.”
Interested in a trade? NLC offers Pre-Employment Trades and Apprenticeship Trades. Get more information at https://www.northernlakescollege.ca/programs-courses