Standing at just over five feet tall, Jennifer Johnson may not be what comes to mind when you think heavy duty mechanic.
“I’m not a very big person. People wondered if I was physically capable. It wasn’t discriminatory, it’s more they wondered, ‘Are you sure you know what you’re getting yourself into?’”
It’s safe to say, she did.
The Pictou Campus grad is not only on track to become Nova Scotia’s first female Red Seal Heavy Duty Equipment Technician, she was also the valedictorian of her class. Still, Jennifer admits, she feels pressure to succeed, “You’re setting a bar. You don't want to let the people down who’ve supported you throughout the process.”
One person Jennifer says she received a lot of encouragement and support from was her heavy duty equipment repair instructor Frank Wuite. “That girl is capable of anything,” says Frank who is now retired. “It wouldn’t matter what program she decided to do; she’s going to go far.”
The benefits of a great learning environment
As part of the requirements of her Red Seal, Jennifer is working to accumulate hours and experience in her trade. A position as an apprentice technician at Atlantic Cat gives her the opportunity to do just that. “When you are in the shop eight hours each day, you’re really given a chance to excel. One day I am replacing a cab on an excavator and the next I’m packing cylinders.”
Jennifer's says her biggest challenge is the sheer amount of time to learn the broad range of skills required in her trade. She admits, “Being surrounded by mechanics who are very willing to answer my questions and teach me the tricks of the trade is a big help.” Jennifer says that her co-worker’s balance of assistance and encouragement creates a great learning environment. “I strive to meet their standards and that’s helping me grow.”
While an open slot in her high school schedule introduced Jennifer to trades, she argues that in order to encourage more young females to consider them as a career, efforts must be made to target girls earlier in life. “If we wait until Grade 12, it’s too late.” Jennifer adds that toys representing trades that are marketed to males only are part of the issue. “It isn’t a mainstream decision for young females to go into trades.”
As the potential first female to achieve the Red Seal certification in the province, Jennifer says, “There’s an excitement to knowing you’re doing something that may challenge the norm or stretch gender role boundaries.”
It isn’t just gender role boundaries that Jennifer hopes to affect.
“My job may be repairing a machine, but that machine may be used by a construction company to repair a road. In turn, the people that use that road can have a higher, safer quality of life.”