If you have a mental image when you see the word “arborist”, it’s probably not a mental image of me. For those who don’t know, an arborist is a skilled tradesperson who specializes in cultivating and managing trees and woody plants – sort of like a specialized lumberjack. I’m 5’7”, I’m smallish by most standards, and I couldn’t grow a beard to save my life, so archetypal lumberjack I am not. I have ended up with a career in the skilled trades, however, and would recommend anyone who likes working with their hands to give the skilled trades a shot.
The major impetus for me happened in fall 2012, when I spotted an ad for The Career Foundation’s Arborist Pre-Apprenticeship program, to which I applied for, was accepted and successfully completed. When the General Carpenter Pre-Apprenticeship program at The Career Foundation started in early 2016, I encouraged my brother, Will, to apply, and neither of us have looked back.
What has working in the trades done for me?
Learning to safely use, maintain, and repair a chainsaw changed me, and not just because it’s one of the coolest power tools out there. Before I got into the trades, I’d probably held a drill once or twice, hammered a few nails, and would have looked for someone else to do anything more involved than putting together Ikea furniture. The first few dozen times I used a chainsaw, the uncertainty of whether I’d be able to get the thing to start put a knot in my stomach.
Fast forward a few years, and I’ve been in more situations than I can count where I had the most training and experience with tools on a job site, and was best prepared to tackle a job safely, or troubleshoot a problem effectively. Beyond the obvious practical applications of having gained this level of skill, it also made me realize that, just because something is an enormous challenge at first, doesn’t mean I can’t overcome and eventually master it. That feeling is infinitely transferable to other tools, to sports, to hobbies, and to challenges at work and in life.
With a couple major exceptions, most of the skilled trades have traditionally been male dominated. (Kudos to chefs and hairdressers!) Today, the world is changing. Every day I know that by showing up for work and being a professional in my field, I am setting an example: for my bosses and coworkers, for other women, for other skilled trades companies, for clients, for the public.
I really believe that tapping a broader pool of talent is beneficial: for individuals faced with a wider range of options, for industry, and for society. Working in a male-dominated field as a woman certainly has its challenges, but I do so with the knowledge that I’m helping to pave the way for non-traditional demographics, including women, people of colour, and LGBT+ people, to take a shot at this really rewarding career.
Working in the trades, there is never any question at the end of the day as to what you’ve accomplished. Your achievement is right in front of you, whether it be a tree pruned, a section framed, or a pipe laid. As a tradesperson, you have made a measurable and tangible contribution to society by the end of every day at work. In many cases, it will be a contribution that you’ll be able to physically show your children and grandchildren.