There is a boom in demand for tradespeople, but experienced tradespeople are tough to find. One local business is doing its part to welcome young workers to the field.
Joelle’s Technical Resources & Custom Works (JTR) provides welding, millwrighting, sandblasting, skilled labour, confined space management and many other services in the mining, forestry, industrial and construction sectors. They also have a shop from which they provide custom fabrication and ceramic lining for machinery. While they largely serve Timmins and the surrounding area, they also take on jobs across the province.
At JTR, safety is a top priority that is embedded in the company’s culture, winning them the WSIB award for Small Business Health and Safety Leadership in 2017. The award recognizes businesses with exceptional commitment to health and safety programs.
JTR was founded by Jean Charbonneau in 2007. His daughter, Joelle, has been with the company for 15 years and bought the business at the beginning of 2022. JTR employed about 24 employees at the time, which has since more than doubled to 54 workers in just under two years since the acquisition.
“Things have changed because of the industry. It’s booming right now. There’s a lot of opportunities out there,” says Joelle Charbonneau, JTR president.
Charbonneau originally went to Nipissing University for a degree in geographical information systems, intending to work in environmental management or geology, before switching to trades to work with her father. The complete flip from working with nature to working with machinery is an irony that is not lost on her.
“It’s a big leap, a big change. But when I was working as a geological tech I was, you know, jumping out of helicopters into rivers, walking through swamps, dealing with major heat and bugs, and I think it really built character,” she says. “I think these hard jobs that I had built my character and made me able to deal with the stresses and challenges I face today.”
Charbonneau says her leadership style is a bit different than her dad’s. She has done her best to offer opportunities to young workers since she took over the business — something she takes great pride in.
“I think we give more chances to the young workers, and it’s been working out for us. With young workers comes great risk because they’re eager to prove themselves and they’re more susceptible to injuries, but I think we manage that well by joining them with more senior workers and providing them opportunities to grow, learn and thrive,” she says.
Charbonneau says that while a lack of tradespeople is certainly a problem, college pre-apprenticeship programs and wage subsidies are pushing things along in the right direction. High school co-op programs also generate interest in the trades, with co-op students at JTR becoming full-time employees more often than not.
“Our colleges are doing a great job at providing pre-apprenticeship programs so that people can try things out and see if it’s something they’ll enjoy. I’m really proud that we work with Northern College. We take in a lot of pre-apprentices, sponsor them as apprentices and provide them the opportunity to get their hours and challenge their trade,” Charbonneau says.
While hiring inexperienced workers presents its own challenges, it also has the benefit of being able to teach them the proper way of doing things and form good habits, something that is often difficult with older, more experienced workers who are set in their ways.
“Our culture has changed, the demographics of our team have changed because a lot of young people are coming in, and we have a lot of women working here and kicking ass out there. I’m pretty proud of that.”
In a relatively male-dominated field of work, women are becoming more visible, Charbonneau says, working in everything from metallurgy to engineering, to trades, to safety, and more.
“We’re very welcomed. There’s a place for us. I can’t speak for every woman but it’s pretty good,” Charbonneau says.
“It is a male-dominated field but the women are coming up. There’s a lot of mechanical advantage now. You don’t need to be this big, strong person to thrive in the trades, you just need to be focused on detail and understand the systems,” she says.
JTR maintains strong relationships with the community, whether that be in the form of supporting other businesses by buying local, taking part in fundraisers, or sponsoring local athletes.
“We’re grateful to be a part of the mining community here in Timmins, and we’re here to stay,” Charbonneau says.
“We’re looking forward to fostering relationships with young apprentices and the local mines.”