Spotlight on Diversity and Creativity in the Skilled Trades

International Women’s Day is on March 8th. We hear from one of UBC’s newest journey-level steamfitters on why she chose her career path and what keeps her busy at UBC.

“One of the proudest things I can say is ‘I built that,’” says Nikki Gaulton. Nikki just completed her apprenticeship at UBC and has now been hired on as UBC’s newest journey-level steamfitter – adding to a growing number of women in skilled trades at UBC.

Steamfitters, in short, are the skilled trades who ensure the delivery of heat to buildings at UBC. At Energy & Water, through access holes and tunnels, they work on the last bits of the old steam and new Hot Water District Energy Systems. At Building Operations, they work inside the buildings where the steam or hot water systems meet heat exchangers and transfer heat to a building’s internal heating and domestic hot water systems.

Nikki started out not knowing that the skilled trades were an option for her. During her school years she joined her peers and did the usual retail and customer service jobs. “I enjoy working,” says Nikki, “but none of those jobs really played to my strengths. I didn’t know what my future was, but I knew I needed something that would be a creative outlet.”

Then, when she was 18, Nikki’s friend invited her to help out as a dry wall installer during the construction of the new Mountain Equipment Co-op in North Vancouver. “I got to try everything, boarding, insulation, taping, mudding,” says Nikki. “I remember standing back, looking at the finished rooms and thinking ‘WOW I did this! Look at these rooms. I made those. I was part of this.’”

Less than a year later, Nikki’s dad saw an ad in the paper for the Trades Foundation program with the Piping Industry College. During her four-week government-supported program, Nikki got to try her hands at the piping trades: plumbing, sprinkler fitting, welding, and steam fitting. “I loved it. I immediately signed up for the 16-week foundation course,” says Nikki.

“I was drawn to the complexity of steam fitting. The photos I had seen of job sites and projects blew me away with the precision and layout of the piping. The tradespeople I met amazed me with their ability to think through complex 3D problems and design fluid, beautiful solutions.”

Within a few years, Nikki joined UBC as a third-year apprentice and, after writing her exams in November, became UBC’s newest journey-level steamfitter.

The gender balance of the traditionally male construction worksite never concerned Nikki. For her, being in the trades is all about creativity. “As a woman, I was able to bring different perspectives, different ways of working, and new approaches,” says Nikki.

“There’s always a new outlook, a new way of seeing that breaks through and allows us to build new and more complex things. Everyone has endless knowledge. That diversity is only going to make the world better. I can shine in different ways and the balance of women and men in a workplace opens interesting opportunities to solve things in new ways.”

Interested in following Nikki into the skilled trades? “My best advice to other women considering a career is the trades is: DO IT! There has never been a better time,” laughs Nikki. “The trades organizations, employers, labour unions, and government are all opening doors for women to join the skilled trades. It will open your eyes and you’ll see how the things around you actually work. A little bit of knowledge can let you go a long way.”

Get Involved

Join us, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, and alumni UBC for an evening of inspirational engagement on March 14th. Hear insights from women and people of colour championing race and gender equality.

This event is organized in recognition of International Women’s Day and International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Lead, Succeed and Inspire: An Evening with Changemakers
Wednesday, March 14 @ 6:30PM

Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre

Register now.