A one ton truck, a Snap-on toolbox and on her way to an apprenticeship. What more could a girl want? Photo by Brian Zinchuk

This past weekend was an emotional one for our family. Katrina crossed the stage, graduating Grade 12.

And her future looks bright.

She’s going to school, and she’s going to work.

In the oilpatch.

Katrina was a beneficiary of a forward-thinking government roughly six decades ago, when Saskatchewan built a series of “comprehensive” high schools in larger centres across Saskatchewan. I personally attended Yorkton Regional High School. I wrote stories about North Battleford Comprehensive High School, and my kids attend Estevan Comprehensive School (ECS). These schools were built for large catchment areas, but more importantly, with a large variety of facilities for introduction to the trades: mechanics, autobody, construction, electricity, commercial cooking, hair dressing, drafting, etc.

I personally wished I had more time in my day when I was in high school. I would have loved to have taken mechanics and construction. I did take all three years of drafting and one year of electricity. But my course load was more focused on academics.

Katrina took mechanics and drafting, and excelled at both, with high nineties in each. While she got great marks in most of her classes, math and sciences weren’t her thing. My wife and I forced her to take all her maths and sciences with the express purpose of keeping her options open, should she have chosen to go to university. But that’s not for her, and never will be.

And that’s why the option of taking vocational education in high school was so important, and formative.

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She’s going into the trades. Specifically, she’s going for her journeyman as a light duty automotive service technician, a fancy way of saying mechanic. And once she completes her red seal in that, she intends on getting her heavy duty red seal, too.

Despite this being 2022, that’s an exceptionally rare thing for a girl to do. If I heard correctly, only one other girl in her graduating class is seeking to become a mechanic. The Estevan Mercury did a nice story on them a few months ago, which you can see here.

Our society still pushes kids to go to university, basically as the only option. And yet there is so much opportunity in the trades, it’s not even funny.

I started buying her tools when she was 12.

Since she turned 15, Katrina’s been pulling wrenches. I brought back my old 1998 Geo Metro which needed some work, and my old 2004 Buick Rainier, both of which ended up seeing a lot of time in the ECS shop. Well, as much as was possible during this time of COVID-19. The school was shut much of her Grade 11 year.

The Metro died due to the frame rusting out, so she asked her grandfather, Brad, if she could have his old truck.

That beast is a former Carson Welding truck, a 2001 Dodge 3500 flatdeck dually with a Cummins 5.9 L turbo diesel. My step-dad bought it in 2007 to pull around my parents’ 5th wheel. But he had a leg amputated in 2012 due to diabetes, so driving a stick was very difficult for him. It hardly moved since then, and didn’t move at all for at least three years until last summer. And that truck, as a former pipeline truck had been ridden hard and put away wet, as they say, before Brad ever got it. There were a lot of issues.

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Katrina said, “Grandpa, if I can get it going, can I have it?”

“Sure,” he said, not really thinking she could do it.

But we picked up two new batteries at Kendall’s in Estevan, and sure enough, she got it started. And true to his word, Brad let her keep it.

That truck may have changed her life. It cemented her wish to go into mechanics.

The truck literally had to be driven out of the weeds. That’s a tree that was growing beside it. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Here’s the list of all the things she did with it:

  • Convince Grandpa to give her the truck if she can get it going, after it not moving in at least three years and hardly moving for eight years.
  • Replace 2 batteries.
  • Start truck for first time in three years, drive out of weeds
  • Clean out six dead mice, and numerous mouse nests in the HVAC and glove compartment
  • Disinfect entire truck
  • Replace 2 front tires
  • Pick up muffler that fell off
  • Replace windshield
  • Replace side mirror
  • Replace wipers
  • Replace and align headlights, replace clearance lights
  • Go hunting for parts at a local wrecker
  • Replace seatbelt
  • Replace and stain wood for deck
  • Paint boomers, old deck toolboxes
  • Replace grill
  • Replace differential pinion seal (2x)
  • Replace tail lights

Replacing tail lights. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

  • Fix passenger door
  • Replace steering box, steering pump, connecting hoses
  • Replace stereo with Bluetooth, USB, CD unit
  • Repair/blow out rear differential vent
  • Fix seat slider
  • Repair blown out turbo low pressure oil return line in an A&W parking lot in Russell, Manitoba
  • Replace vacuum pump
  • Replace two rusted out toolboxes under deck
  • Install mudflaps
  • Install new winch for deck
  • Convince Dad to pay for all the above
  • Get accepted into four trade schools: Sask Polytechnic Moose Jaw and Saskatoon (light duty), Lakeland College Vermilion (light duty), Sask Polytechnic (heavy duty), then waitlisted at NAIT (light duty). Accept Saskatoon light duty pre-employment, starting fall 2022.
  • Get four job offers based in large part on business owners/managers seeing Dad’s Facebook posts showing all the above
  • Accept summer job and possible future apprenticeship with Jerry Mainil Ltd in Weyburn

It turns out she had something of a fan club, with people I know taking note of all those posts on Facebook of her working on her truck. They saw the passion, and the effort. A large number of those fans are women, and they’ve said to tell her, “You go, girl!”

And that’s where those job offers came from.

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That’s a huge change from when I was that age. After my unsuccessful second year of university, I had a hell of a time finding work. Canada was coming out of a recession with what was known as the “jobless recovery.” I hand-delivered 100 resumes in Saskatoon, and only found work after a clerk in a small hardware store recognized me from my newspaper column and took pity on me.

Things have changed immensely for Katrina’s generation. As I’ve written recently, we’re seeing a tremendous demographics shift in Canada at this very moment, with the last of the baby boomers entering retirement, and not enough young workers to replace them. That means young people entering the workforce now are in high demand, and have options. Lots of options.

The low-pressure oil return line blew coming up the Assiniboine Valley near Russell. Katrina patched it back together in an A&W parking lot on May long weekend when everything was closed. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

But some things may not have changed. Our world does not need piles of liberal arts majors. We need electricians, instrumentation techs, plumbers, rig hands, nurses, and yes, mechanics. Our society still very much needs people who know how to do things, make things, fix things.

About a third of the ads on Pipeline Online are companies seeking to hire workers. While many are looking for skilled, experience workers, others are looking for young people willing to work hard. I expect in a few months, jobs ads will be half the ads.

Katrina wants to work in the oilpatch. She’s heard all the stories of me, my stepdad, and cousins working on pipeline projects. She wants to work with her hands, in a shop or outside. She has zero ambition to work in a more traditional female role. She likes doing things, making things, fixing things.

Indeed, she’s even willing to chop off much of her trademark flowing mane of blonde hair to do so, lest it get caught in a running engine’s fan belt. That’s serious dedication.

I told both of my kids, “You’re getting a degree, or you’re getting a journeyman, but you’re getting one.” And Katrina might just get two. Red seals, that is.

You go, girl.

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca.

 

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High wages, housing you can afford, and lots of work available in SE Saskatchewan oilfield