2017 Skills Volunteer Of The Year

Finning employee named 2017 Volunteer of the Year by Skills Canada Alberta

Skills Canada Alberta presented Patricia Nelson, technical training supervisor for Finning, with the volunteer of the year award at Skills Alberta on May 10. “This is such a great honour,” says Patricia. “There are so many volunteers at Skills worthy of receiving this award.” And that includes Patricia, who has done an outstanding job representing Skills on the national stage for 13 years, mentoring and inspiring young women to consider careers in the trades.

As a technical training supervisor with Finning, Patricia brings some additional expertise to her role - she is a Red Seal mechanic with 15 years’ experience. She got involved at a time when not many women were choosing that career path. “Twenty years ago there weren’t many women jumping up and down saying ‘hey I want to be a mechanic’,” says Patricia. “There wasn’t anything offered in the trades for women. We didn’t even have automotive or welding classes in high school. So for me, it wasn’t a direct career path, there was a lot of trial and error.”

Patricia was raised in Saskatchewan and after high school she waitressed for a couple years, but always knew she would go back to school. “I took a computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD CAM) course which included one week of welding and one week of machining that was when the light went on,” said Patricia. “After school I applied for a job at a farm equipment manufacturing facility and they asked me if I’d be interested in welding. So that’s where it all started. But it was hard to get an apprenticeship. I even tried changing my name to ‘Pat’ on my resume. I got more calls from potential employers, but as soon as they realized I was Pat, the job was suddenly filled.”

Jobs in the trades were scarce in Saskatchewan but Fort McMurray was booming. Patricia knew she’d have more opportunities, so she packed up and moved. She eventually got a job as an operator with Syncrude. “I spent two years running Cat equipment - D8s to D11s and 773s to 797s.” When a mechanic apprenticeship opened up, Patricia landed it. “I walked into the hiring supervisor’s office with my resume and told him he wouldn’t find a more qualified person for the job and that if he gave me the opportunity, I’d work for free for two weeks to prove I could do it.” He took her up on her offer and she got the job.

“It wasn’t an easy journey,” says Patricia. “I got through on sheer determination, courage, and necessity.” There were times it was tough being a woman in a male-dominated profession but she endured. According to Patricia, “Anytime I became frustrated and wanted to give up, I would just think about all the women who came before me, working on the farm – pulling ploughs, having babies, what my grandma and mom went through – my mom got one week off maternity leave when she had me – and I would think…I can do this.”

Patricia also draws a lot of satisfaction from the women she has inspired in her 13 years with Skills Canada. “I’ve had students who were not sure if trades were for them come back after five years to tell me they are now indentured in a trade. It’s an incredible feeling when you know you’ve had an influence in someone’s life,” says Patricia. She is thrilled to be helping women find financially stable career paths. According to Patricia, any woman who chooses a career path that’s not typical is making it easier for the next generation so they won’t have to jump through as many hoops. “Things are changing, there is more acceptance and it’s more common to see a woman in the trades. With Skills Canada events opening up all kinds of non-traditional opportunities for women and men, I believe this is a trend that will continue to grow.”

Finning is a proud supporter of the Skills events that provide students with opportunities to explore career options in trades and technology from skills competitions to hands-on experiences like try a trade. “Students are our greatest resource and will fuel our industry’s future,” says Patricia. “I feel so fortunate to be a part of shaping the next generation and ensuring we have the talent we need to take Finning to the next level.”