Wider Horizons

It was almost by chance that Wanda LeClair stumbled into her passion. A desire for a career change and a meeting welding womenwith a Lethbridge College advisor led to a job shadow opportunity with a welding company, and the rest is history. She took both her pre-employment and apprenticeship Welder training at Lethbridge College before launching her career. Now, she is using her training to give back, instructing a series of courses designed for under-represented learner groups. Her initial Welding for Women course taught basic skills to a group of four women, while she also instructs the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Stepping Away Trades Training Program, working to instill skills in a group of local teenagers. A true life-long learner, LeClair took time to talk to chat with Wider Horizons about why it’s important for her to inspire a new generation of learners.

WIDER HORIZONS: Why did you feel it was important to teach a class specifically for women?

Wanda LeClair: I had been instructing a Basic Welding course for the college, and the administrator said that a lot of women would call in and be interested, but were intimidated. So, we thought, ‘I’m a woman, I’m a welder, let’s run one.’ We wrote the class description to say, with ‘own female welding instructor, Wanda Leclair,’ so they now know that it is a female instructor and they hopefully feel less intimidated. The way the whole thing was written was in hoping to capture that audience.

WH: What was the reaction from that first class?

WL: The girls had such a good time. One of them sent me a message that said, ‘I can’t thank you enough for helping me get the confidence that I needed to do what I’m doing right now.’ She has now set up her own shop at home.

WH: What sort of outcomes did you hope for from the program? Is it to get women involved in the industry, or is it more for their own projects?

WL: It’s more for special interest, but it opens doors depending on where they want to go. It might take them to a mindset of, “I really like this and I want to try it on the pre-employment level.” Or, maybe they’re just going to go home and buy a little welder, or use the one in the shop that they didn’t even know was a welder. The course is project-based, so one young lady built a welding table, and now she can go home and she can weld. Another built a rack for her cowboy boots, so it’s something, that if she chose to, she could turnaround, make and sell. So, they don’t just weld and that’s the end of the story in those eight weeks. I try to deliver a little bit of information about ‘if you want to weld at home and you want to buy a welder, you can.’

WH: It’s a younger group, all teenagers, in the Canadian Mental Health Association program. What do you try to instill in them?

WL: I want them to know that when you try something new and you practice it, you get good at it. Because that then gives a little thought in their heads that says, ‘I’ll try something else because I did good here and I know I can do it again.” It creates what I call a bankbook of successes. To me, it’s building character, it’s building ‘who am I? What am I good at? What do I like?’ When they come up against adversity and obstacles in life, I want them to be able to go, “I never knew how to weld either but then I took the course and I built two things.”

WH: Why did you decide to get into welding?

WL: I came from working in the human service industry, and I just came to a place in my life where my kids were older and I wanted to do something where I could make a bit better money. I’d been taking various courses at the college for 30 years, so I knew I wanted to come here and I decided I wanted to try a trade but didn’t know which one. The advisor asked about welding, and I like to build things so I thought “ya!” So she sent me off on a job shadow at Charlton and Hill and I did the job shadow and thought “I think I might like this,” and that’s where it started.

WH: You ended up taking both Pre-employment Welding and your Welder apprenticeship at the college. What was that experience like?

WL: I love the instructors here, they are my mentors to this day. If I have questions, I go to them and they’re very supportive and helpful. I’m hard on myself, I’m a perfectionist. If I’m doing it, I want it done right and I want it to look really good. So on the academic side of things, I didn’t have any trouble, but with the practical, I’m a perfectionist, so I would sometimes be less than happy with my end result, but I just kept on going.

WH: And that’s the lesson you now pass on to your students?

WL: It is. I think welders are cut from a similar cloth. We like things done nicely and perfectly. I think a lot of people are hard on themselves when they’re welding, saying, “ah, that looks like crap,” and I say, “look, I’m speaking your language, I know where you’re coming from, give it time and just practice.” I still do the same thing in my teaching, because I want to be a really good instructor. So I ask my students, ‘what do you want?’ And if their answer means I have to do some homework, that’s a good thing. It means I’m still learning.

For more information about the Welder apprenticeship program at Lethbridge College, call 403.320.3366 or email  tradeslc@lethbridgecollege.ca. The Welding for Women course is offered by the college’s Corporate and Continuing Education centre, for more information, call 403.320.3288 or email training@lethbridgecollege.ca.

Wider Horizons
Paul Kingsmith
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