When Evonne Edwards advises women about a career in the skilled trades, she tells them to rely on their instincts. “Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not for you,” she says. “Never take no for an answer, when you know the answer should be yes.”
Evonne speaks from experience. Although her dad, brother, uncles and brother-in-law are ironworkers, they didn’t encourage her to follow. She remembers her dad telling her that “it’s not a career for women.” Evonne proved him wrong.
Back in 2003, she was juggling three jobs as a pharmacy assistant, cosmetologist and esthetician, until she got “fed up.” Evonne headed for Hamilton Ironworkers Local 736, filled out an application, was tested, and within two months was hired as an apprentice. That was the start of a career she’s proud of, and the first step in changing perceptions within her own family.
“It’s brought my father and me much closer,” says Evonne. “I discovered how well respected he is at work. We get along better than ever, and it’s great to have so much in common.”
Evonne has been an Ironworker for the past decade. She completed her 6,000 hours of apprenticeship training by applying her union hall instruction at the work site. She got her start at what was then Stelco and was delighted to be working a 12-hour shift, putting in less time and making far more than she did working three jobs. Evonne has since worked at Imperial Oil, ArcelorMittal Defasco, Nanticoke and Ontario Power Generation in Niagara Falls.
“I really like building and knowing that I’ve accomplished something at the end of the day,” she says. Evonne also enjoys telling people what she does, and waiting for their response. “No way, really?” She knows a small, female Ironworker is not what they’re expecting.
Evonne has gone on to exceed family expectations. Through the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association she earned her designation as a Construction Health and Safety Officer, and works with all of the skilled trades to ensure they’re safe. Evonne is a trained observer, and what she also sees is a change in attitude.
“With a younger generation they’re not used to the stereotypes. Everyone gets a chance, as long as everyone can do the job.”