International Women's Day Series: Yuka Yoshino

She feels lucky to have worked with a lot of great, open-minded carpenters who see her just as an apprentice, not a gender, and who want to teach her the trade.

Yuka Yoshino never set out to have a career in the trades, but now that she’s a skilled carpenter, she’d never look back.

She’ll be the first to admit that her journey in life, and into and through trades hasn’t always been easy. Born in Japan, Yuka emigrated to Canada in 2008 to join her then-husband, and they had two children together. What had started as a bright future in a new country became very difficult.

“Anyone who has kids will know that they change you, and they become the most important thing in your life, says Yuka. “So, when my husband became abusive, my children and I fled to a women’s shelter.”

He died shortly after that, leaving her a single parent, completely alone with two children to care for and raise. She needed to find a way to survive, for her own sake and that of her kids.

 She knew that working in a job like retail just wouldn’t be the right fit for her.

“I didn’t care to sell things that I don’t believe in to people who don’t need them,” Yuka says.

She sought help from an immigrant settlement organization who gave her a career aptitude test that showed, to her surprise, that she should be in trades. Yuka was shocked to learn that a career in trades was recommended to her.

“I didn’t know women could be in the trades!” says Yuka.” I started thinking about the trades in 2015. One of our local union reps happened to train at my gym, so my coach told him I was interested in a career in carpentry. He called me right away for an interview and sighed me up as a material handler. That’s how I started my apprenticeship and now I am in my fourth year.” 

She feels lucky to have worked with a lot of great, open-minded carpenters who see her just as an apprentice, not a gender, and who want to teach her the trade.

One of the projects that helped develop her career was working on an award-winning condominium complex in Victoria called the Jukebox, where she built the last set of concrete stairs. She’d been building other stairs as an apprentice, but when it came to the last set, her superintendent and journeyman told her she could build it and assigned her a tradeswoman as her apprentice.

It was daunting at first, Yuka says. But her superintendent looked her in the eye and said he knew she could do it and didn’t have to doubt herself. He had complete confidence in her work and skills as a carpenter.  

Now in the fourth year of her apprenticeship, she’s appreciated the opportunities, but also faced the challenges. Being a single mother, child care becomes a constant issue with day care availability and logistics involved , meaning Yuka has to negotiate flexibility with every new job.

“Since I don’t have family support here in Canada, I need to be able to leave work if my children need anything,” she says. “They are 10 and 7, and they come first, of course. Most employers are understanding.”

While her family back in Japan were surprised by her career choice as it’s unusual for women to pursue carpentry there, they’re happy that she can support herself and her children. When she shared her decision with her family, she unexpectedly discovered that her career choice was a family legacy: her great grandfather had been a carpenter himself. Yuka found some of his tools and brought them back to Canada with her. She hopes to use them in the future but has to be very careful maintaining them because they’re over 100 years old.

She’s hoping that her decision to pursue a career in carpentry creates other long-term legacies for her family.   

“I think I’m setting a good example for both of my children,” says Yuka. “I’m teaching my son to respect the women who choose these careers. And I’m teaching my daughter that she can do anything she wants, even if it’s in a male-dominated industry. When and if she decides to go into the trades, my wish is that by then, there will be many, many more women in the trades and she will not have to face all the same barriers that every tradeswoman I know still faces every day.”

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