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Judy Lopez-Paz is excited for her future career as a millwright

Combining precision and passion.
Saskatchewan Polytechnic's WITT powered by Orano program is inspiring female students like Judy Lopez-Paz.

SASKATOON — Originally from Guatemala, Judith (Judy) Lopez-Paz immigrated to Canada at a young age with dreams of becoming a nurse. However, her path took an unexpected turn during her middle school years when she discovered her passion for trades. "I knew I wanted to go into the trades, but I wasn't sure which trade to choose," Lopez-Paz recalls.

To explore her options and gain insight into various trade opportunities, Lopez-Paz participated in Saskatchewan Polytechnic's WITT Powered by Orano exploratory workshops in Rocanville. These workshops, hosted in partnership with Nutrien, aimed to introduce young women aged 15 to 19 to different trades and encourage them to consider a career in this traditionally male-dominated field. Female professionals from underrepresented trades at the Nutrien Rocanville site volunteered their time to share their experiences and inspire the next generation of female tradespeople.

The workshops, held in the local curling rink, provided hands-on training using tools from the WITT training unit. Participants learned the safe use of power tools in carpentry and automotive, gained practical knowledge in electrical and plumbing and delved into the world of welding and machining. Lopez-Paz, with an open mind and a desire to find her true calling, fully immersed herself in the program. The support system provided by WITT gave her the strength, comfort and inspiration to pursue the trades.

"I was the only girl in my high school to participate in the WITT weekend courses," Lopez-Paz shares. "WITT helped me learn more about trades and choose industrial mechanics as my field of study at Sask Polytech. I want to keep learning and growing, and industrial mechanics allows me to be a Jack-of-all-trades."

Without hesitation, Lopez-Paz enrolled in Sask Polytech's Industrial Mechanics certificate program immediately after completing high school. This comprehensive program equips students with practical, hands-on training to install, repair, overhaul, and maintain industrial machinery and mechanical equipment. With high demand for industrial mechanics, also known as millwrights, in various industries such as energy, manufacturing, milling, power generation and chemical plants, Lopez-Paz is well-positioned for a successful career.

Lopez-Paz is one of two women currently in Sask Polytech’s Industrial Mechanics certificate program. “It’s nice to have a companion in class. It’s great to have someone to relate to, struggle with and get strength from. Hayley and I have become great friends. We know our strengths and weaknesses and help each other out. The guys in our class are also very supportive.”

Neil Dielschneider has been an Industrial Mechanics instructor at Sask Polytech for over two decades, he shares, “I have seen more and more women join the Industrial Mechanics program, which is great. It’s good to see more diversity in the program. The male students are welcoming and the female students are excelling alongside their peers.”

As she hones her skills and works on large machinery, Lopez-Paz aspires to become a journeyperson in the future. "It's exciting to work with my hands. I've had the opportunity to work on numerous interesting projects at Sask Polytech," she shares enthusiastically.

Lopez-Paz's advice to aspiring tradespeople, especially women, is to ask questions, seize every opportunity to learn and explore various courses. "I am a woman of color, I am an immigrant, and I am working in the trades. I want to encourage other women to take trades courses and learn new skills. Even if it's not the perfect fit, you will acquire valuable skills that will benefit you in the future."

Lopez-Paz's parents are incredibly supportive of her chosen path, recognizing the significance of their daughter breaking stereotypes and working in a male dominant trade. “My parents think it’s very cool. They are proud to have their daughter represent the Latin American community in industrial mechanics.”

“I’m thrilled that Judy has enrolled in the Industrial Mechanics program,” says Allison Zerr, WITT program head. “Although industrial mechanics training wasn't part of our WITT weekend workshops in Rocanville, we were fortunate to have a female millwright from Nutrien as a mentor. She shared information about her experience and the skills needed to be a millwright. This underscores the significance of providing WITT programming in rural and remote regions and the pivotal role of female mentors in trades. I’m happy that WITT was able to help Judy choose a career in the trades.”  

Sask Polytech’s WITT program continues to empower women like Judy Lopez-Paz, creating a more inclusive and diverse workforce in the trades. Through hands-on training, mentorship and support, WITT is paving the way for a new generation of skilled tradespeople.

— submitted by Sask Polytech Media Relations