I was born/grew up in: Ajax, ON (I was born in North York)
I now live in: Newmarket, ON
I completed my training/education at: George Brown College, Construction Engineering Technologies and the
Skilled Trades College Canada, Plumbing Pre-Apprenticeship
What I do at work
When people heard that I was training to be a plumber, some would say “you deal with poop all day?”. It seems that when people think of plumbing, they think of backed up toilets. However, dealing with waste and waste water is only one type of work that a plumber can do.
At Modern Niagara, I worked as an institutional/commercial/industrial plumbing apprentice. This is known in the industry by its abbreviation ICI. I worked in the special projects division. I worked with waste water, potable (drinkable) water and venting systems. A lot of what we do is based on chemistry, physics and math. We use the Pythagorean Theorem to calculate angles and pipe lengths. From soldering pipes to dealing with chemicals and solving problems, you have to understand the science that is behind it.
Although plumbing and steamfitting have things in common, they are very different. This is certainly true in regards to their daily job and work environments. As a steamfitter, I still deal with pipes carrying water and air. I also work with pipes meant to handle the highest of pressure and handle more dangerous materials. For example, these pipes might carry such things as steam, chemicals, gases or fuel. These pipes tend to be larger and heavier in size. As a result, handling these materials involves a lot of hoisting and rigging. We also use crane lifts for the really large pipes. You also have to feel very comfortable working at heights.
Steamfitters work closely with welders and many steamfitters also obtain their welding certification! There is a lot of science in steamfitting. We need to know how heating, ventilation, refrigeration, and air-conditioning systems work. Because the pipes steamfitters handle are so large, it requires very precise measurements. This means that mathematics applications (such as trigonometry) are used often. The saying “measure twice cut once” is of very important to us. There is a lot of teamwork involved.
Understanding pressure is very important in steamfitting. For example, we need to know how much pressure (psi) is acceptable in different pipes. We also have to know how pressure acts on liquids in closed systems. We also have to understand the effects of gravity on fluids in pipes. The best example of how far plumbing/steamfitting gets from working on toilets, is hydronics. This is using water or steam in heating and cooling systems. Commercial buildings can have a hydronic system that has both a heated and chilled water loop. These can be very complicated series of pipes and loops. If you have seen a hot water radiator in a house, you have seen a hydronic system.
Most people realize that plumbing is important to make sure there is drinkable water in a building and a way to get rid of wastes. But the type of work we do goes beyond this. For example, on the site I am currently on, they are installing CRAC units (computer room air conditioning units) in a computer centre. This centre has huge banks of computers that store information from all across the country. This is what people mean when they say information is “stored in the cloud”. The cloud exists on computers somewhere. These computers create a lot of heat. If the computers are not cooled they will crash. If they crash, this information can be lost, or at least not available to the people who need it at that time. Things like this help me realize how important my work is!
My career path is
My first experience in the construction industry was as an office manager with an architectural firm. My job was to coordinate the work of the architects. Part of role included attending site visits with the Project Architects to see the work as it was progressing. These site visits peaked my interest in having a more active role in construction.
When the time was right, I enrolled in a Construction Engineering certificate program. This program gives you the technical, business and interpersonal skills needed to manage construction projects. During this program, I had a co-op placement at a construction company. Here I got to experience the customer service side of the construction industry. I also had practice working on site as a site coordinator. I fell in love with project management in construction! I took a job with a general contractor. When I completed that contract I got a position with a large demolition company. During my time there I continued to learn and develop my skills. I went from a project coordinator to project manager.
While I loved working as a project manager, I really wasn’t satisfied. I liked being more active and physical at work. However, I was spending more and more time in front of a computer. I also found it was a struggle to maintain a good work-life balance. When work slowed down during the covid-19 pandemic, I had time to reflect on what I would do in my next stage of life. After many heartfelt discussions with friends, my son, and coworkers, I decided to take the leap into the trades and enrolled in a pre-apprenticeship program at the Skilled Trades College of Canada. I enjoyed physics in high school so I thought I would become an electrician.
At the Skilled Trades College, you get to spend a lot of time in the lab area, practicing what you learned in class. The plumbing class would be practicing in the same area. I noticed the instructor for the plumbing group was a woman. It was cool to see that, and after speaking with her and spending a bit of time with the plumbing group, I realized that the pipe trades were the better fit for me. I really enjoyed the different materials and wide variety of fitting techniques. As a result, I decided to switch to the plumbing program and landed an apprenticeship directly out of school. Working as a UA Local 46 plumbing apprentice with Modern Niagara, I have had the chance to work with both plumbers and steamfitters. Once again trying different things has paid off for me as I was able to figure out which of the pipe trades I was most passionate about. Now I am a UA Local 46 Steamfitter Apprentice!
I am motivated by
I love that I get to see fruits my labour at end of every day. It’s a great feeling to have worked hard, built something with your hands, collaborated with others, and then see it completed.
I find this job gives me a better work-life balance. When the day is done, I don’t need to think about work until the next day. This allows me to truly have some me time, and quality time with my family. I am physically active every day, so I feel healthier both mentally and physically than what I did when I was at a computer most of the day. I also work my full-time hours Monday to Thursday. That means, unless I work overtime, my work week is only 4 days long!
I also enjoy the culture of the workplace. Here we are “brothers and sisters”. We look out for each other as the work can be hazardous/dangerous, so we have each other’s backs. The crew you are on becomes a tight group of men and women. We work hard but also laugh at any chance possible and always try to make the hard work “fun”. You also get to work with a wide variety of people. Because every project has an end date, this means you get to move on to a new project, with new challenges, and with new people. The work never gets boring because every project is different.
Finally, I love learning! There is ALWAYS something new to learn and working with Modern Niagara as a Local 46 Sister is amazing because of the number of opportunities there are to advance your skills in a wide variety of topics.
How I affect people’s lives
We all need clean water and air, and to get rid of wastes from where we live or work. We all depend on the heating/cooling of our physical spaces or of our materials. These pipe trades directly affect our life and our quality of life.
Outside of work I
Outside of work I paint and create visual art. I play in a billiard league which I cannot wait to get back to when the time permits. I’m also a huge sports fan. Anytime I can watch a Toronto Maple Leaf game I’ll be there!
I am also a huge supporter of women in the trades. I work with my Union Hall and online connections to find opportunities to support young girls/women who are looking to get into the trades. I have recently started mentoring a new young female plumbing apprentice with UA Local 46. I attend a variety of seminars and panel discussions put on by various organizations. This helps keep me updated on what is happening in the industry to promote, encourage, and keep young men and women in the trades.
My advice to others
First, don’t limit yourself; try things before you make up your mind. Being an apprentice in the trades is still going to school, but you are earning WHILE you are learning. You do not have to go to College or University to have a career that is full of science and pays extremely well. Volunteer to get experience. If you can, take co-op at high school to get exposure to the career path you are thinking of!
Do what’s right for you. People have opinions but it is your decision. Listen to what they have to say but, in the end, you need to feel fulfilled in what you do. It’s important to have a career that is stable and viable now and in the future. If you are a parent reading this, and you were like me and thought that college and university was the only way, I understand why this stigma exists but I am hopefully helping to break down that stigma!