When Lorna Cloutier was in grade 10, her Burnaby middle school opened its industrial arts program to girls. The result was a drafting class made up entirely of female students that year. Lorna enjoyed the drafting and her teacher told her she was good at it, so she enrolled in drafting again when she got to senior high. That year, she was the only girl in the class. She wasn’t deterred. “Until that point I was going to be a teacher,” she remembers with a laugh.
Today, Lorna is a project coordinator with Fred Welsh Mechanical and has been working in the mechanical contracting field on and off for almost two decades. Going into the construction industry didn’t feel unconventional to her because when she was growing up, her mother was always building things and her uncle was a small contractor. “It just sort of appealed to me.”
An older sister went to BCIT so Lorna had access to the school’s program calendar. She decided to do the two-year building technology program where she found she enjoyed working with mechanical systems design.
Her first foray into the mechanical field was as an Estimator but finds project coordinating more fulfilling because she stays with a project for the duration. “Once we get the job, you see it go from the ground to the finish of the project.”
Mechanical contracting is challenging but satisfying work and should be considered by more young women, Lorna says. Women are particularly good at project management, she adds. “Females are better at it because they’re more detail-oriented.” While some of the old guard didn’t like women in the industry, Lorna says she always felt accepted in her workplaces.
Young women still need a bit of a toughness to withstand the testosterone-dominated field: “Sometimes guys don’t think there are women there and their language might not be the best.” But Lorna says even that’s changing with the attrition of outdated attitudes. Lorna also advises young women get technical training, “so they know how a system goes together.”
It’s a well-paying career with lots of work and Lorna recommends it for more women. Mechanical contractors would do well to offer work placements to young women, she suggests, in order to attract more women into the field. “It’s just a matter of making them more aware of it.”