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Gateway to Trades leads women to

MartiniWhen Cola Martini learned of the opportunity to immerse herself in a training program that would let her experience a host of different trades, it didn’t take her long to decide to jump in with both feet.

Four days later she was donning steel-toed boots, safety glasses, tool pouch and starting down a path that has led her to a good job with a respected local firm as an apprentice plumber.

“I was working in retail and knew that wasn’t for me,” says Martini. “I’m an outdoorsy person who likes to work with my hands, likes mental challenges and solving problems.”

In the end, she completed a 21-week plumbing pre-apprenticeship program offered by Okanagan College in Penticton. That turned Martini’s interest into a chance at employment as a tradesperson. (Applications are being accepted for another intake to that program in Penticton now – it starts Aug. 22.)

There was an important interim step along Martini’s path.

Martini enrolled in an Okanagan College program – the Gateway to the Trades for Women, part of the College’s Women Trades Training Initiative which is funded by the Industry Training Authority through the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Agreement.

The Gateway program introduces women to a host of different trades. It was there that Cola unexpectedly settled on plumbing as a trade to pursue.

“I was thinking carpentry, and in fact had signed up for a program in joinery, when we started the plumbing component. I liked the trade, liked the instructor, and changed to plumbing before the end of the week.”

“We hear that a lot,” says Nancy Darling, who co-ordinates the Women in Trades Training Initiative. “People come to the Gateway program with preconceived notions about what a particular trade is like and when they get into it, they find out the reality is completely different. The exposure to the different trades gives the students a chance to see and think about what fits with their skill set.”

There are dozens of success stories from women who have come through the program, in a variety of trades, including electrician, carpentry, auto service technician and heavy duty mechanics.

A 21-week plumbing pre-apprenticeship certificate program in Penticton followed and now Martini is working Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., doing installations with Leask and Company in the Central Okanagan.

“It’s a great shift,” says Martini. “Every day is different. One day we may be doing waterlining and drainage in a house and then the next day we may be installing furnaces.”

“You’re always learning. That’s one of the great parts of the job.”

Martini is more than just a satisfied graduate with a job, though: she’s a vocal proponent of the Women in Trades Training Initiative. She serves as a mentor for the program, helping women like herself understand the opportunities and challenges that are at hand in pursuing a trades career.

“I’d definitely recommend it,” she says, although she cautions that there is a healthy, physical element to the occupation she has chosen. “I was pretty fit before, but I’m building new muscles every day.”

There is an opportunity to enroll in the plumbing pre-apprenticeship program in Penticton, which starts Aug. 22 in Penticton. – Press Release

Heavy Duty Mechanics turns out to be light load

Imagine thinking you could never get it right. Now imagine turning that belief on its head, and you understand why Shyster Pollon can get enough of Okanagan College.

The 27-year-old single mother left school at age 14 and landed in construction. But after years of working on the bottom rung, she found herself battling a bout of lay-offs. Then her home was hit with a house fire, and her boyfriend of six years passed away. It was a heavy load.  But things quickly changed for the better when she heard about Okanagan College Women in Trades program, and landed in the apprenticeship program for heavy duty commercial transport mechanics.

This is a life-changing thing for me. I never graduated from high school, said Pollon, one of 19 students already enrolled in Okanagan Colleges Heavy Duty Commercial Transport mechanic program. The College is launching a new intake March 14, and Pollon says there’s no shortage of work out there, with wages averaging more than $30/hour.

So far, there’s every sign  that she will succeed. Instructors tell her she’s a natural, and so far the marks coming in confirm that 91 per cent, 80 per cent, and even 100 per cent on a few projects.  With only a few weeks under her belt, Pollon is committed to making it onto the Dean’s list, and then heading up north with her daughter where companies are clamoring for qualified people to work on big rigs from cats to cranes and semi-trailers.

People in Prince George and Fort McMurray are screaming for heavy duty mechanics. When I did my research there was 40 or even 50 jobs offerings up there, and it was all heavy duty mechanics. I’m really doing the best that I can, said Pollon, who received a scholarship to get into the program. I want the instructors to know I’m not wasting their time.

Pollon says unlike regular mechanics, physical strength is no issue when it comes to the big pieces of equipment. Hoists do all the heavy lifting and it’s simply a matter of getting in there to get the job done.  Once Pollon is up north, she plans to continue her training and obtain as many tickets as she can so that her skills continue to be in high demand.

A few years ago, I never have thought I'd be here. I've worked so hard my whole life, and now there’s a chance to change things not just for me, but for my daughter. I want to show my daughter that it is possible to do anything you want to do. I want to graduate top of my class, and I set that target high because it keeps me on my game.

Heavy Duty Commercial Transport Mechanics overhaul, repair and service equipment such as graders, loaders, shovels, tractors, trucks, forklifts, drills, and wheeled and tracked vehicles. Working from manufacturers' specifications, they identify and repair problems in structural, mechanical, or hydraulic systems.

For more information about the Heavy Duty Commercial Transport Mechanic program, call Jen Hamilton in the Trades office at,

There is currently funding available for eligible women entering trades programs at Okanagan College.

WTTI Student in HD Commercial Transport Mechanic Program

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United Steelworkers & Women of Steel

Women in Trades Training had the privilege of attending a meeting
with the United Steelworkers' Kelowna chapter of Women of Steel. 
They are doing great work for the community and Women in Trades
looks forward to working with them in the future!