“When I went to Holland College, I realized how much I enjoyed learning something new,” says Sarah Nuesch.
“I had a purpose and a reason to be there. Seeing how much better my life had become just by going to school was amazing. I came out with a career. I get to work full-time, year-round. I can provide for my children, and I don’t need assistance. That’s amazing, considering how far I have come.”
Sarah spent years working seasonally in the craft industry, and was determined to build a better life for herself and her three children. She wanted to find a career which offered full-time, year-round work, but didn’t know how to make that change.
Her first step was to join Trade HERizons, a career exploration and college prep program for women interested in a career in trades and technology. Participants in the program tour Holland College campuses and check out the trades training. Sarah decided on welding, because full-time, year round jobs are available on the Island, and wages are good.
The welding program
When the welding program started, Sarah was nervous at first. “I had never been in a shop before, and I had never welded before. During my first year in the welding program, I found it hard to fit in. But the instructors were amazing. They were always there to help when I needed them.
“Holland College puts a lot of emphasis on safety, and the instructors are quick to correct you. When I went out on job sites, I felt very prepared.
“In second year, I had more confidence. I won the Trade Excellence award and a bronze medal in the Skills PEI competition. I was the student union representative for the Georgetown campus, and I was a math tutor. I also earned my Red Seal in welding.
“At the time, we had a choice of doing a two-year program with a block release, or a three-year program with more class time. I chose the three-year program because I learn better with someone there to teach me rather than trying to study and learn on my own.”
On the job training
“In my three years at Holland College, I was able to get a lot of on the job training experience. We had to find the OJT positions ourselves, which gave us practice in applying for jobs. The instructors offered to help if we were having a hard time finding a position, and that gave us confidence.”
Working at DME
“My last OJT was at DME, and it was the shop I liked best. We are a fabrication shop, and I like to build things. It may be the artistic, creative part of me coming out.
“We build unique, custom-made tanks for the craft brewing industry. Each tank is a real showpiece. I have had the satisfaction of visiting a few of the breweries we made tanks for.”
Sarah has worked at DME for almost three years. She started off working on the floor, welding and building the tanks. Then she began operating the water jet, a CNC machine that cuts metal using sand and water.
She is the chair of the safety committee at DME, she helps train new recruits, oversees their safety orientation, and works on other projects. She is also on DMD’s social committee, among others.
“It is nice to come full circle,” says Sarah. “There are 10 first-year OJTs at DME right now, and when I help them with orientation, I remember how it feels to be the new person. It is nice to give back, and to make them feel more comfortable about being here.
“I am really enjoying helping with training the new employees. Four of us at DME worked with Workplace Learning PEI to build an in-house training program for the new hires.
“DME has tripled in size since I started. We are growing and hiring new people. With so many people coming back from Alberta, it’s great to be able to offer welding jobs here on PEI.”
Sarah is also on the board of the PEI Women’s Network. “I recently gave the new group of Trade HERizons participants a tour through the plant. It is great to still be attached to the people who helped me out.
“Last year, I had the opportunity to help make the Samuel Holland weathervane that is on top of the CAST building at Holland College. I was so excited to be able to give something back and to work with the college to build something that will be there forever.”
Advice to those looking for a career change
“If you keep going in the same direction, you can’t expect a different outcome. It is scary to do something different, but it is worth it in the end. If you don’t take that step out of your comfort zone, nothing will change.
“What is the worst that will happen if you try something new? If you don’t succeed, you will be in the same spot you were before. If you do succeed, you will end up someplace better. My kids have a better life because I tried.”
For more information about Holland College Trade and Industrial Technology programs, visit www.hollandcollege.com/programs/.
by Heidi Riley