Trailblazing by making origami from metal

Carmen Collins with a sheet metal laser cutter.

Carmen Collins with a sheet metal laser cutter.

Ashley Evans, FMF ~

Five years ago Carmen Collins was hired at Fleet Maintenance Facility (FMF) Cape Breton as the first female apprentice in the sheet metal shop where she has worked hard to earn her Journeyman Certificate and Red Seal as a Sheet Metal Worker.

It was back in 2012 when Carmen first began her search for employment at FMF Cape Breton. This was where she wanted her career to be, but first she needed to decide on a school and a specialty. This led her to get in touch with the Trades Program Coordinator at Camosun College to ask if she could sit in on classes of the different trades’ options to familiarize herself with each, allowing herself the opportunity to make an educated decision.

This initiative has followed Carmen throughout her career. She quickly knew that sheet metal – which she describes as origami for metal – was the trade for her. Carmen hadn’t lost her desire to be hired on at FMF Cape Breton, and while working in private industry during her 2nd year of school, she finally received the phone call she had been waiting for. There was a position open and she was asked to go in for an interview. She started her career at FMF Cape Breton shortly after, in 2014.

In the fall of 2018 Carman graduated her apprenticeship and obtained her Journeyman Certificate and Red Seal as a Sheet Metal Worker shortly before being sent to Japan for three-weeks to work on one of the RCN’s Canadian Patrol Frigates.

This was the opportunity of a lifetime, and one of her career highlights to date, second to obtaining her Journeyman Certification and Permanent Number at Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Breton. “It was an incredible experience to be in a new country working for the RCN alongside another nation,” she said of working in Japan.

“There is a real lack of women in trades – but there is huge incentive for the women who it is right for,” said Carmen. Like men, women can begin in a trade and decide half-way through that it isn’t for them. The success rate of women who enter a trade program is said to be 1 in 4, with is a success rate of only 1-2 per cent. But that 1-2 per cent are dedicated and focused workers, Carmen says.

She may be the sole woman in her shop, however, Carmen feels that she has always been treated the same as anyone else, receiving continued support to integrate herself as a valued member of the FMF CB team, offered the same opportunities for career experience and growth as any other person, male or female.

“I love using my hands and the amount of time I am allowed to be creative. I am given the opportunity to design things from my own eye, and I love working with the guys in my shop and the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN),” she said.

“There is no question that a woman can do this job. From a biological standpoint, men and women think differently, but when put together work so well together,” Carmen continued, “The integration of different races, backgrounds, sexes, and ideas bring together an even bigger and better idea.”

While some may believe that women are required to be as strong as a man to get into the trades – especially metal trades – Carmen says this isn’t the case as guidelines for required lifting strength is determined by WorkSafe. “People are hired based on skillset and work ethic,” Carmen said.

Carmen is an asset to Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Breton, which has been shown through her dedication to completing her apprenticeship, obtaining her Red Seal, and seizing the opportunity to define a role in her shop which didn’t before exist, while saying yes to incredible opportunities afforded to her. “I love coming to work every day,” says Carmen, “I love that I get to have my entire career here at Dockyard.” While she looks up to the female trailblazers who paved the road for her, she is paving a big one of her own.

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  1. Karen smith says:

    Awesome! I love to see/hear of stories where women succeed in a Male dominated industries. My mother wore air force boots, I drove trucks n busses and my oldest daughter is a red seal electrician, plumber w welding tq, sprinklerfitter, teacher of trades intro and now a probationary firefighter. Theres nothing men can do that women cant! Except pee standing up without getting it on us. 🤣

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