A building construction student actively engaged in hands-on construction work

Finding my confidence in a male-dominated field

Katie Whitehead, a longtime employee of Seven Generations Education Institute (SGEI), decided to follow in her dad’s footsteps and study building construction. In July 2021, Katie took the plunge, put her career on hold and applied to the Building Construction Technician program. Read about her decision to leave her job to pursue a lifelong dream, challenging herself and the beliefs of those that doubted her.

Making a big change

Many (if not most) people I know, love, and respect were shaking their heads in absurd disbelief when I told them I would take a year off work to go into the SGEI/Canadore College Building Construction Technician program. “Why?” They would ask. They were looking at me like they were trying to figure out if I was joking or crazy. Why would a 42-year-old woman with health/physical limitations, that has a great job and is set for life, throw that all away to go in a male-dominated industry that demands utmost physical health and strength?

Building runs deep in my family lines. When I was a little girl, I would watch in awe as my dad, in silence, would work alone in his garage making a table, hutch, rocking horse, whatever he was asked to do (or inspired to do). There wasn’t anything he could not do.

Proving everyone wrong

I grew up in a family setting that felt women had a place in life, behind the man, rarely next to, and heaven forbid in front of. It made me angry and resentful for being a female. It made me feel powerless. I hated it. It gave me the drive and motivation to prove them, and all people that believe women are less than men, wrong. 

Growing up, I would constantly challenge myself to prove I could do whatever the guys could do. Anytime someone said I couldn’t, I was bound and determined to prove them wrong—often unsuccessful, but sometimes more successful than my male counterparts. However, the failures hit deeper and last longer than the successes.

Pushing myself forward   

I always wanted to learn woodworking. I wanted to contribute to conversations my male family members and friends would have about building projects, how they would go about it, what they needed to accomplish etc. I wanted to understand what they were talking about. In my experience, guys did not want to take the time to explain things to girls. They would look at me like I was stupid for asking, or give me that look like, “you are not capable of understanding, dear, go along now.” Any or all of those reactions were enough to make me shut my mouth and walk away in frustrated heartbreak.

Fast forward to my 30’s, I get a most sought-after opportunity to work at SGEI. I helped and watched our students and co-workers further their education and better their lives for eleven years. Always being proud and a little envious of their courage, drive, and success, they inspired me to want to further my education but I wasn’t sure of what I should pursue. Then, five years ago, SGEI started to offer the Building Construction Technician program. I wanted to drop everything and take it right then and there. For five years, I lacked the self-confidence and courage to take the plunge and go for it. In July 2021 I decided it was now or never. It was time to invest in myself and go after something I have wanted since I was a little girl.

Entering a new stage in my life

Am I at the end of my “prime”? Probably. Am I giving up a year’s wage to do this without much financial security but my husband and my finances? Most certainly. Am I as physically fit or strong as an average healthy man? Heck no! Is my age working against me? Absolutely. I’m still unsure of where this program will lead me, and I may not be able to work in construction full-time as my physical health won’t allow it, but I’ve come to accept that.

When I complete the program, I hope I can become a more significant asset to SGEI with my newfound skills. I want to better student and staff experiences as much as possible and continue to learn and build on my new skills in some way. I have always wanted to build my own sauna since I grew up with one. I have not had one for twenty-five plus years. Being ¾ Finn, it is in my blood. It is my therapy. I want to look at a problem and know I can fix it myself.

I have to accept my limitations, as I have a few, but it doesn’t mean I have to give up on my dreams. It means I have to work with what I have. I must live the life I was given, limitations and all. I know that doing this program has brought me confidence and self-reliance I have not felt in years, if ever.

It’s scary doing things that are not in your comfort zone. Whether it be financial, skills, time, smarts, strength, etc. we can think of a thousand and one reasons not to do something. But, if it is something that peaks your interest, gets you excited or motivated, then try. I believe that life is one big science experiment with countless variables and uncertainties. Try different things to find what works for you, what makes you tick and what brings you joy. Without challenges, we do not grow. Without challenges, we do not become better. Not every science experiment leads to success, in fact, many do not, but every single one brings you closer to finding out who you are. Is that not a success in itself? 

Gain confidence and skills with SGEI

At Seven Generations Education Institute, we offer numerous programs where you can better yourself and start your future. We are currently accepting applications for our September programs! Check out the vast post-secondary programs we have to offer from the trades field, health disciplines, business programs, and more!