“It’s something that’s not very common.”
That’s how Burlington native Vanessa Wagner describes being the only woman currently a member of the International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 90, located in Hamilton.
Being the only woman in a union that has 275 men, it’s obvious to see the uniqueness of her situation in a time where social inequality has become such a highly discussed topic.
“They’re not used to it,” she says it of many men who see her doing a non-traditional job. “You’re out in the field on your own a lot and working as a helper with a mechanic.”
Wagner is currently employed by Thyssen Krupp Elevator, which is contracted to install and do maintenance on anything from shopping malls to apartment buildings. During her journey toward becoming an elevator mechanic, Wagner worked for a number of different companies.
Despite her unique situation, Wagner also sees the possible difficulties companies may have as well. She explains that companies understand it is something that some men may not be used to, but they also understand the importance in developing a work environment that’s equal for all.
“I believe a woman can do any job just as good as a man. That makes it even more exciting and challenging in a trade where there aren’t any [other women],” Wagner says. “I like to think in a sense that I am breaking down walls for the next woman who wants to join and become an elevator mechanic.”
The 39-year-old is in her final year of a four-year apprenticeship to become a certified elevator mechanic.
Since pursuing this career path, Wagner has become involved with her union as she completes the educational portion of her apprenticeship through the Canadian Elevator Industry Education Program (CEIEP).
15 years ago, she attended Mohawk College to study fitness theory and personal training. She would go on to use those credentials as she taught kickboxing classes and worked as a personal trainer for the better part of the last decade.
“A great opportunity came up,” said Wagner. “I was looking for full-time work and wanted something that was still physical.”
That opportunity would be what kick-started her shift in careers.
The first stage on her path toward becoming an elevator mechanic was to become a permit. Being a permit is simply a classification of licensing that regulates what trade work an individual is allowed to do. Once Wagner completed a year as a permit, she was able to become a union member with Local 90.
“I must say the union has been really great,” she says regarding her relationship with Local 90. “They’ve been supportive and encouraging me to continue on and deal with any challenges that have come up.”
It was following her time as a permit that she was able to begin the education program through her union while she also balanced a 40-hour work week during her apprenticeship working for Thyssen Krupp and other companies.
Wagner says she’ll be able to write her Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) exam this year. Completing it will allow her to work as a fully-licensed elevator mechanic.
“Everything about it is good for me,” says Wagner. “I like it and I enjoy it. I’m proving that women can do the same jobs that men do.”