Welding and Fabrication Technician, 2007
When people started telling me I couldn’t do it, that I wouldn’t like it, that it was too dirty, I thought to myself, ‘I am going to do it, and I’m going to be phenomenal at it’.
Leah McIntyre loves big toys with loud motors, especially dirt bikes and snowmobiles. Her job has taken her to points throughout Ontario, and even to South Africa, and she earns more money than she ever thought possible. To say she is enjoying her life these days may be a bit of an understatement.
After working two full-time jobs for years waiting tables and barely making ends meet, McIntyre walked into Cambrian College to plot out a new future. She knew she wanted to study a trade, so she opened the school’s course catalogue. She put her finger on top of the trades page, closed her eyes and let it land on her future.
When she opened her eyes, her finger was pointing to the two-year Welding and Fabrication Technician program.
“It’s a dirty job, but it was a great choice,” McIntyre laughs. “When people started telling me I couldn’t do it, that I wouldn’t like it, that it was too dirty, I thought to myself, ‘I am going to do it, and I’m going to be phenomenal at it’.”
And by all accounts, she is. McIntyre has been a welder-fitter since 2007 and, since 2010, has worked with the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Union, Local 128.
She readily admits the Welding and Fabrication Technician program was challenging.
“The work is hard and can be dangerous; it takes a certain kind of person to do this job,” McIntyre says. “You need to know a lot about many topics.”
She acknowledges she had a tough time initially – welding was new and unfamiliar territory – but she says the faculty at Cambrian College was “awesome” and provided students with all the theory and practical experience they needed. Job preparation was a top priority.
“The education at Cambrian is hands-on and without it, I wouldn’t be anywhere,” she says. “I learned all I needed to know.”
The hours of study and practice paid off for McIntyre. The day after she graduated in 2007, she started her first job.
“You have to be strong to be a welder – physically and mentally,” she points out. “And you have to be able to take criticism and still do the job.”
In 2008, McIntyre was working for Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie (now Essar Steel Algoma Inc.). She was then asked to go to South Africa with Anglo American Platinum Limited. McIntyre says she could not pass up the opportunity for adventure.
Today, she is often the only woman on the shop floor and acknowledges that respect is earned.
“They tell me I am good, that I motivate the guys to work hard,” she says. “I go to work to work – I’m there to work. You pay me. I’m going to work hard for you. Plus, I’m a girl, so I always have to prove myself.”
While in South Africa, McIntyre was on the team that built the largest platinum furnace (an electric arc furnace) in the world. She spent more than three months working 12-hour days. It was hard work, but the money was incredible – McIntyre earned more than $100,000 working with Anglo American.
The new mom says balancing work and family can be “tough, but my sister-in-law has a daycare, so at least I know who’s helping to raise my baby. Family makes it easier, that’s for sure,” she says.
McIntyre is thrilled she pursed a career in the trades.
“It’s challenging; you learn something new every day,” she says. “If you’re willing and you put all your energy into it, you can do anything.”