Women welders gain valuable experience on OPG’s Little Long Dam Safety project
After graduating high school, Megan Parent thought her future would involve horses – mainly shoeing them as a farrier. Instead, she’s pursuing a new passion as she lets the sparks fly and faces the heat every day as a welder.
Growing up, she watched her dad weld and was always curious about the skilled trades. A co-op term in Grade 12 at a machine shop helped get her started and she followed that up by enrolling in a new “Women in Welding” program.
The initiative was launched by Rosane Parent, a Project Management Officer at Maurice Welding in Kapuskasing, and Angèle Ratté, Employment Officer for the Métis Nation of Ontario in Timmins, with the aim to help primarily Indigenous women gain financial independence and a fresh start at a new career.
With the help of Collège Boréal and industry partners, the program has trained eight women so far, including Megan, who is proud to call herself a welder.
“Because of me taking on that program, I am now where I am today,” said Megan, a Métis citizen who is certified under the Canadian Welding Bureau (CWB). “I love doing hard work and find it amazing that I can accomplish what I can. Welding is an art. Not anyone can do a nice-looking weld on old, dirty materials.”
Recently, apprentices with the Women in Welding program got a chance to put their skills to the test on a real-world project through OPG’s Little Long Dam Safety (LLDS) Project in northeast Ontario.
Three women welders successfully welded handrails and completed repairs on a storage container to be used for small-tool training by workers at the site. The LLDS project, set to be completed in 2023, will improve dam safety on the Mattagami River by increasing the discharge capacity at the eight-gate Adam Creek spillway structure located on the Little Long Reservoir, about 90 kilometres north of Kapuskasing.
“All the labour and welding on this project was done by women,” said Rosane Parent. “The project was a great exposure for them to the industry and offered real-world experience. They had to carefully study the drawings to ensure they understood the assignment. By the end of it, they were operating almost independently, which is what we wanted to see.”
The Women in Welding program launched with eight initial candidates, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the program to take a pause. Eventually, the women were brought back to continue their training, which involved a combination of safety training, more than 100 hours of practice welding, and in-class sessions supported by CWB’s Acorn program. Seven of the eight women passed the CWB shielded metal arc welding test and each took on eight-week co-op terms with industry partners.
Three of the women, including Megan Parent, managed to stay on at Maurice Welding to gain further exposure to the industry, working at mine sites and paper mills.
“Our Indigenous women are an undiscovered resource in the trades,” said Rosane. “There is a real need for these women. I was proud to see the growth in their skills and self-confidence. They have been able to take on new challenges, and face their fears and uncertainties.”
In addition to training, the program helped prepare candidates for some of the challenges they would face in the field due to their gender and background. Additional mental health and cultural support helped ensure the women felt comfortable and empowered.
Since becoming a welder, Megan Parent has had to face some of these challenges first-hand. While she is now established working in industrial construction and repair, she still has to overcome the occasional offensive comment.
“You have to learn how to put it aside and not take it personally,” she said. “It’s someone else’s opinion. And so far, I’ve received a lot more positive comments than negative ones.”
With this initial run a success, Rosane Parent is looking to expand the Women in Welding program in the future to include more candidates and more trades beyond welding – including millwrights and electricians.