Working in the shop at Craig Wood Products in Northam, Keisha Clements ensures the cedar planks she’s using to build bat houses are properly aligned. It’s a special project she’s been working on, on behalf of Bruce Craig, one of the owners of the company.

Bats, she explained, prefer cedar wood above other types.

By this point, Ms Clements is about halfway through a 20 week Skills PEI training program where she is learning to become an apprentice cabinet maker.

“The goal is one day I can be here getting everything done, and he’ll be on the road, so when he eventually retires, someone knows what’s going on,” she explained.

Ms Clements was initially in a course for tourism, but has always been interested in carpentry and the trades. When she heard about the opportunity to take part in the training program she decided to give it a try.

Mr Craig says everything has been going pretty much as anticipated when he agreed to bring Keisha on.

“I designated three weeks to spend as much time with her to get her comfortable with the equipment and find out what she could do on her own without supervision and what she can’t,” he said. “There’s always somebody here besides myself if she needs assistance. We’ve had a couple of little hitches, but everything is going great from my own perspective. We get along great. We haven’t really had any work issues apart from if something goes wrong and we swear at ourselves.”

Mr Craig said he feels a lot of people aren’t willing to take the initiative to hire women in the trades, and that some wrongly feel women can’t do the job. But, from his perspective, Ms Clements is much farther ahead than Mr Craig envisioned she would be at this point in the program. She’s able to do a number of specific jobs in the shop that he figured she would just be catching onto at the end. He’s very impressed with her work ethic.

There’s only one issue Ms Clements seems to be struggling with right now. 

“I’m too picky where I’m not supposed to be picky, and where I’m supposed to be more picky, I’m not picky enough,” she said. “That’s been a very hard lesson the last two weeks because we’ve been doing cabinets, and I’ve had to strip a whole set of them, and all the edges, and two just came back an hour ago that need to be completely stripped again.”

So far the experience has been great. She said the guys at the shop are easy to get along with, which helps, especially since she’s the only woman in the training program at the shop.

“It’s not much of a shock to me, honestly,” said Ms Clements. “I have an older brother, and we used to always play sports together. For years, I was the only girl in a group of guys, and even through high school and into college our friends were all guys, so it’s just a very normal, everyday situation for me.”

Ms Clements said she knows a lot of women who are interested in learning the trades, but they hide behind the fact that there’s not a lot of women.

When starting at Craig Wood Products, Mr Craig told her not to take any crap from anyone.

“We had a lady that worked here a few years ago,” he said. “She was great, but there was a little issue with one of the staff members. I asked her, and she didn’t share with me what was going on, and it got to the point where she made the decision to leave. I just caught it at the tail end and I lost a real good employee.”

While the commitment right now is completing the 20 week training program, Mr Craig hopes it will turn into a full time job for Ms Clements.

Ms Clements is the cabinet maker assistant at the shop, and will gradually work into taking on more responsibility. Once she’s worked enough hours, Mr Craig plans on having her go to Holland College to begin her apprenticeship. Within five years, she can have her journeyman’s license. His goal is for her to eventually have her cabinet maker’s license.

When asked if Ms Clements had any advice for women who are thinking about learning the trades, she said you can’t sweat the small stuff.

“Everyone is going to have rough days, and if you’re one that does not like swearing, and can’t have someone yelling, that might not be the right industry for you,” she said. “But, over time you’ll adapt to things.”

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