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Women in the Trades: ‘So many opportunities’ in electrical work, says Sudburian

Komatsu’s Kristen Rouse says hands-on trades work has provided stable, enriching career
Kristen Rouse started out as an electrician with Komatsu and is now the eengineering design supervisor for drilling and bolting equipment in Komatsu’s Hard Rock Mining division.

When she was mulling her future career path, Kristen Rouse knew what she didn’t want — long days spent sitting in a classroom just weren’t for her.

Early on, she’d had some influences hinting at her future prospects: her dad worked as a millwright in the mining industry, and she’d spent time in her youth helping friends tinker with engines.

In both instances, it was the hands-on aspect of the work that appealed to her.

“One of my first real jobs was in a mechanic shop; we did rentals and repairs for heavy equipment,” said the Sault-born, Sudbury-raised Rouse. “I worked more in the parts and help side of the business, but I definitely got a feel for working with the tools, and I enjoyed that very thoroughly.”

From that point, she knew she wanted to go into the trades.

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Researching her options, electrical work in particular had ‘sparked’ her interest. So Rouse signed up for an online course.

It wasn’t accredited and it wouldn’t count toward any formal training, but it taught her the basics of the trade.

Six months later, when Collège Boréal launched its first free electrical course geared toward women, Rouse enrolled, starting her on the journey to becoming a trained electrician.

That was 11 years ago. Today, the 33-year-old is the engineering design supervisor for drilling and bolting equipment in Komatsu’s Hard Rock Mining division, which designs, manufactures and sells underground mining equipment for customers around the globe.

Rouse’s team looks after the electrical aspects of equipment design, ensuring they work as envisioned.

It’s satisfying, she said, to watch her team’s ideas evolve from a sketch on a page to fully functioning equipment. And she occasionally gets to travel to a client site to see a machine in action.

“Although I can understand the electrical system, it allows us to understand the machine as a whole, so that’s a great opportunity,” Rouse said.

The appeal of electrical work itself is a little more abstract.

“I think it’s because you can’t actually see the electricity, in a sense,” she said of what drew her to the trade.

“You have to put all of the pieces together before you see the final output and you see things functioning. I love to see the motion at the end of it.”

Though it’s becoming more common to see women entering the trades, in the early years of her career, Rouse was only one of a few women she encountered in her work.

But she never felt marginalized because of it, and said she’s been lucky to have “fantastic” mentors who were thorough in teaching her every aspect of the trade.

“It was comical, because I couldn’t explain to you what voltage was at the time,” she said, reflecting on the three-hour interview that landed her an apprenticeship.

“But I could explain to you how excited I was and how interested I was to learn about it, and to understand all of the concepts in regards to electrical.”

Over the course of her three-year apprenticeship, Rouse was rotated through a variety of positions to get a thorough understanding of the role.

She worked alongside a hoist technician, moved into the service division to learn how to maintain equipment, and then spent time in construction to understand how mine infrastructure was built.

“They took the time to teach me properly and ensure I understood, and then I had to take that and continue on,” she said. “So they gave me a really, really good ground basis.”​

Komatsu's Sudbury location designs, manufactures and sells equipment for the hard rock underground mining industry. | Komatsu photo

​Eight years ago, she joined Komatsu as an electrician, and her curiosity and keen interest in continuous learning helped her rise quickly through the ranks.

When she was approached one day about moving into design, she jumped at the chance, and has now been in her current position for two years.

Rouse said she’s always pushing to learn more.

“You don’t have to know everything,” she said. “But you have to be willing to ask questions and to make mistakes and to learn from it, and just keep your mind open and know that you’re never going to know everything.”

With all she’s achieved so far, Rouse still has some personal goals in her sights. That includes earning her professional engineering licence and studying toward a master’s degree, although, as a busy mom of three young kids, those plans are on the backburner for now.

More than a decade into her career, Rouse said working in the electrical field has been a good choice, enabling her to provide for her children, enjoy a comfortable life, and thrive in a career she loves.

“There's so many different opportunities; you don't just have to be in mining, or construction, or building houses,” she said.

“Electricity is everywhere. So for that trade in particular, there are endless opportunities, and it will always give you something more to learn.”