Celina Belair loves learning and it’s a huge part of how she became a welder and a teacher.
She has been a nursing student, a welder and a teacher, and says that she never dreamed of the journey she finds herself on at Collège Boréal.
“I took a Grade 10 welding class, but thought that wasn’t my journey, so I took a whole bunch of math and science classes because I wanted to be a nurse,” says Belair. “I had a lot of friends who were welders telling me to just apply.”
Those first interviews and applications were rough and some of the feedback was negative, but eventually, she got a chance to learn.
Belair says having another woman around when she started her journey as a welder helped her feel comfortable and that a lot of the trades have opened up to women in ways they hadn’t for previous generations.
She got her start as a welder at The Bucket Shop seven years ago. That environment set her up for success.
“I went in, and the owner said, why don’t you come in after hours for a week to try it out,” she says. “At the end of the week they handed me the hiring papers.”
She was supported to learn as she went and had the advantage of having another woman in the room.
“There was one other girl working there, and I looked up to her. She was the hardest worker, and I thought to myself that I need to be this girl,” she says. “The people there were so used to working with that one woman, that they were OK with other women.”
She’s had a lot of opportunities to learn and experience things she never thought she’d get to do, like working at several different mines, and even going underground to work.
“I got sent out to other mines and got the experience of it. I got to go underground and realized it’s not my thing,” she says. “I got all this training for propane handling and everything, and they let me learn.”
Her path led her to teaching welding at a local high school, École secondaire catholique Thériault. Her newest venture is teaching Level 1 welding at Collège Boréal.
This is a new program that the college hopes to expand through Levels 2 and 3 in the future.
“I did not think I would be here today. I did not think my career would evolve this much,” she says.
Belair says that teaching adults is a different experience from the high school students she’s used to and that she’s excited to see how it goes.
She taught at École publique Renaissance for two years before moving to Thériault.
“For my first year, I had one or two girls, and near the end of working there, almost half my class was girls,” she says. “A lot of them were like ‘Oh madame, I’m not going to be good at this,’ and I tell them, I don’t care; you can do this.”
With more and more women pursuing trade careers, she says the support they can give each other is priceless.
“A lot of new women are comfortable talking to me, and I’ll tell the girls to come talk to me if you ever need a hand, because it was so much help to have that in the beginning,” she says. “It reduces the intimidation of being in the trades.”
Belair is happy the students feel comfortable with her as an instructor, and she loves seeing students grow
“I got very lucky because of how open people are now. Maybe 20 years ago that wouldn’t be the case,” she says. “I am forever thankful for all the people I’ve worked with because there were no issues.”
Being supported by her fellow tradespeople has been a huge reason she’s still in the trades.
“I felt safe because I knew the guys with me had my back,” she said. “There’s a reason I’m still here.”