Jamie McMillan is an inspiration and mentor to hundreds of young women. She’s opened doors, and minds, to all of the career possibilities in the skilled trades. As co-founder of KickAss Careers (previously called J♀urneyman), Jamie promotes women in the skilled trades by speaking in high school classrooms and at national trade events.
Jamie has been an Ironworker since 2002. Although she’s always been fascinated by mining and construction, and acting as her dad’s “side kick” around the house, it took a while before Jamie found her calling.
After graduating from high school in Timmins, her mom encouraged her to go into nursing. Jamie became a personal support worker by day and waitress and bartender by night. She was miserable, and didn’t like the pay or the hours, and wanted something more.
Jamie had just moved to Hamilton when she bumped into an old high school acquaintance on the street, who happened to be an Ironworker. That was the moment everything changed. “I looked up the union hall in the phone book and I walked in there, and I’m so glad,” Jamie says. She filled out applications, sent in high school transcripts, took tests, and was hired as an apprentice by Ironworkers Local 736 in Hamilton. She “earned and learned,” putting her union hall training and instruction in welding and fabrication into practice on the job.
Jamie will never forget her first day arriving on the job site and reporting to the project manager. “He looked at me with my blonde braids and said, ‘you don’t look like an Ironworker; you must be in the wrong place,’” Jamie recalls with a smile. It wasn’t the first time that Jamie had to prove she was in the right place.
Over the next two weeks she was assigned to clean up confined spaces with a crew of two men and another woman. When the men were sent down to the confined space and not the women, Jamie complained to her boss. “He said, ‘I don’t think you’re cut out to be an Ironworker. It’s really hard work, but I’m going to give you a chance.’” Jamie gave it her all. “I did the best possible job I could,” she says. “It went so well that he took me to the next job site and we worked together for the next year and a half. It was an incredible opportunity and I learned a lot.”
Since then, Jamie has worked at oil and gas plants in Alberta and potash mines in Saskatoon. She loves her work, the independence, travel, not dressing up, and most of all, being “one of the boys.” She feels lucky. “It’s amazing to know you are part of something that will last a long time, and that some of the welds you did in that building contribute to its structural integrity. For me, it’s a career that makes me feel empowered.”
At every opportunity, Jamie shares her experience with young women who are weighing their career options. “We need to get the word out that women can do these jobs,” she says. “Awareness is important, because the greater the awareness, the more women we’ll see in the skilled trades.”