Stephanie Valliere sees the value in affordable education.
“If school could be free, I think everybody would go to school,” she says.
Valliere is one of the women who took advantage of Collège Boréal’s Women in Steel program, which offered free training to women looking to join the trade.
Valliere had experience with programs like this before, having taken a millwright course at Collège Boréal before the birth of her daughter.
“I took a free program for millwrights at Collège Boréal, so I went there for a year, and then I became a stay-at-home mom,” she says.
Her daughter is now seven years old and watching her mom take these new steps.
“She loves it,” says Valliere.
She felt it was time to return to the workforce, but wanted to gain more skills to make herself more marketable to employers.
“To get back in the field, I saw this opportunity, and I said, well, why not do the welding,” she says.
That was where the Women in Steel program at Collège Boréal came in.
“We learned a lot to work toward our tickets,” she says. “We just learned to weld and manage our machines and cut and grind.”
Collège Boréal’s Timmins campus was one of 14 host institutions in Canada for CWB Welding Foundation’s initiative called The Women of Steel: Forging Forward Program.
The program was free and offered women who are interested in welding a chance to gain their certification.
She said it was a stressful experience and that she expected more theory in the program, but success was still possible.
“We welded all day, every day,” she says. “Most of us, we passed our flat and horizontal tickets.”
Valliere said that she and one other participant, also in her early 30s, were the oldest in their group.
“They were super young, but I’m 32; I’m there to learn and to pursue a career, but it was fun,” she says.
Valliere says there were some issues with cancelled placements and confusion on that front.
Now, to finish the program, she’s doing work experience at 360 Services Inc. and hoping to continue her journey there.
“I’m hoping that I can continue here,” she says. “I’ll continue with welding and pursue the millwright stuff after.”
She said her skills in welding have grown.
“I actually enjoy it. It’s fun, it’s hot, mind you,” she says. “You get to create things, and once you’re done, you have something you did.”
This isn’t new to Valliere, who grew up in Kapuskasing.
“Since I’ve been a little girl, I was never in the kitchen with my mom; I was outside doing mechanics,” she says. “That’s my go-to, and that’s another reason I went to the millwright course.”
She says that physical work was always something she was comfortable doing.
“It took me a while to figure out what I wanted, but it had to be something hands-on,” she says. “I can’t just sit in an office and just do paperwork. I’d fall asleep.”
She’s worked in mining, underground, and driving fifth wheels.
“My resume is big,” she says.
Valliere is also very aware of how fortunate she is that she didn’t have to go into debt to pursue her goals.
“All my programs were free,” she says. “When the opportunity is there, I take it, and if something happens and I don’t like it, I can choose another path.”