Airdrie’s amazing women can be found in all walks of life – including careers where as recently as 20 years ago women rarely ventured. Here are three examples of local women blazing new trails.
Sharon Big Bull
Sharon Big Bull says that being an electrician is almost a glamorous trade.
“Not only do you make things look pretty – you bring things to life,” Big Bull says.
It certainly makes for a change from her previous experience doing snow removal and landscaping – or from accounting, which she attempted for a while before deciding paperwork wasn’t for her.
“I’ve always worked with my hands,” says the mother of two who started out working in husband and electrician Adam Robert’s company. “I worked with him off and on in the field and started my apprenticeship,” Big Bull says. After her youngest entered school full-time, she signed up for SAIT’s pre-employment program, and was hired straight out of the program.
Now in her fourth year of school, she’s a year away from achieving journeyman status and, after spending three years working for a company handling residential and commercial electrical, she’s with Strike (energy services), focusing on industrial electrical.
“My goal was to get my fingers into different places – that’s how you learn,” Big Bull says, adding that she’s worked with Strike in both Calgary and Crossfield.
“I love my job. Not only do I get to use my hands and build, but I’ve learned so much,” she says. “It’s something to look at a space and know what goes into it … is not as simple as flicking a switch.”
Industrial electrical work requires Big Bull to be at the top of her game. “It’s a lot bigger … more safeties, more hazardous,” she says. “In industrial you have to stop, assess and look out for your people.”
Being a woman in a male-dominated field has never felt like much of a barrier for Big Bull. “Sometimes it’s intimidating for a lot of women … but if you’re willing to do it, why not?” she says. “The sky’s the limit. If you’re interested in something, go for it.”
Kathleen Closs Walroth
Kathleen Closs Walroth was already blazing a new trail back in the 1980s when she completed her welding apprenticeship, and again in the mid-2000s when she shifted to the world of workplace safety. In 2013, Closs Walroth established Keep It Real Safety, which works with construction, manufacturing and oil-and-gas clients.
“I grew up in the military,” Closs Walroth recalls. After her dad retired, her family settled in Fort McMurray and she started taking business administration at Keyano College, but it just didn’t seem like the right path. “I wanted to do something where I could make the type of money males made and use my hands and build,” she says.
With that in mind, she took a pre-employment program at Keyano and found work in Airdrie.
After years in the welding trade, Closs Walroth desired to move into workplace safety. She took a career transitions course at Bow Valley College in 2007 and soon found herself hired by Propak, where she became a safety assistant. She also worked for the Alberta Construction Safety Association.
In December 2013, she branched out and started Keep It Real. Her first client was McKee Homes, and with the company’s support and through getting involved in the SMARTstart entrepreneur-mentorship program, she’s continued to grow her business.
“One thing that motivates me is working with youth, getting people before they get into the workforce,” Closs Walroth says, citing a statistic from the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada that a record 188 people died on Alberta job sites in 2013.
“This right here is what I can help companies avoid,” she says. “The approach I use is very respectful. I remember how people treated me in my apprenticeship and I vowed if I ever had a [chance] to motivate, educate, train, mentor, I’d do it with the utmost dignity and respect.
“My goal is to help get people home at the end of the day,” she adds.
Her friends call her “Zamboni.”
That’s because Crystal Janulis has many a hockey fan’s dream job – operating Ron Ebbesen Arena’s laser-guided ice-resurfacing machine. Its proper name is the Olympia IceBear, but everyone calls it the Zamboni.
“I’ve always been a people person – working with the public and not sitting at a desk,” says Janulis, who worked in her mom’s cleaning business in Airdrie before joining the City of Airdrie five years ago, the last couple of years working on the Olympia to make sure the arena’s rinks are smooth as glass for the many teams and clubs that use the facility. “There are kids who always freak out – ‘The Zamboni’s here!’ – and sometimes they chase me down the boards and wave at me,” she laughs.
Janulis loves being in a job not traditionally associated with women; she worked her way up to the operator job after starting out as a rink attendant while taking classes through Bow Valley College. She’s one of three employees who operate the ice-resurfacers.
“The first time I tried [driving the Olympia], the ice looked like a zebra,” she recalls. “I love this job, and I can see myself doing this for many years!
“Some of my friends are calling me ‘Zamboni’ now, instead of Crystal.