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2024 Women in Signs: Christine Hykawy

Her success comes from taking a leap of faith at the opportune time.

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“We pay more attention to details. I’ve always told some of the girls that if you can crochet or knit, you can weld.” — HYKAWY

Christine Hykawy | Welder, City Image Signs (Edmonton, AB, Canada)

BEFORE CHRISTINE HYKAWY was a welder, she was a waitress at a nightclub. She was struggling to buy a house as a single mother of twins while making minimum wage, so when she heard of Women Building Futures (WBF; Edmonton, AB) — a program providing education and training in construction, power engineering and heavy equipment trades so women can achieve economic security — she jumped at a big career change to take better care of her family. She originally wanted to be an electrician, but welding more easily fit her work hours and daycare options.

In 2004, she enrolled in WBF’s Class 16. At the time the class met in a church basement, and Hykawy suspects that the program was started in response to the booming oil industry in Alberta, which was growing so quickly it could not find enough workers. The treatment of female employees depends on the shop in question, Hykawy says, and sometimes men in a shop can be mean to the women.

FLYING SPARKS: Christine Hykawy has been working as a welder for 20 years.

Over the years, an increasing number of women have been entering the trade. Hykawy has had many female apprentices, who for her have been easier to teach and more eager to learn than their male counterparts. Women possess an advantage when it comes to sign building, truck building and other trades in aluminum or similarly lightweight materials, she explains: “We pay more attention to details. I’ve always told some of the girls that if you can crochet or knit, you can weld.”

One of her apprentices, now a journeywoman, actually led Hykawy to City Image Signs: She was leaving the shop and Edmonton to care for a sick brother, while the company that Hykawy worked for went out of business during the pandemic.

“So I was taking a break and the opportunity arose,” Hykawy recalls. “She said, ‘Are you looking for work?’ and I was like, ‘No, but I could be.’”

Now head welder and resident journeywoman, Hykawy has remained with City Image Signs for the past two and a half years. The shop is probably the nicest place she has ever worked, she says. “They don’t look at the employees like numbers. They treat them like human beings.” She appreciates that City Image keeps giving her interesting projects and new challenges to tackle.

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Female workers in a trade traditionally considered masculine might face some pressure to be masculine like their peers. According to Hykawy, WBF is adamant that students in their programs should blend in and refrain from decisions that can damage their careers where being a woman already poses a barrier. Hykawy, however, was “a little bit rebellious,” so for her first welding job she painted all of her tools pink.

“That was probably a no-no for them, but it got me recognized because that job was so accepting of women,” Hykawy says, adding that the boss saw women as more likely to show up on time, having a better work ethic and doing a better job.

On occasions WBF invites Hykawy to meet with and answer questions from new students, and the advice she gives them is the same one that she received 20 years ago: “Exercise, stay strong. You’re working a ‘man’s job’ so you have to stay strong. With that being said, don’t forget to be a woman. Go get pedicures, do things for yourself. Don’t forget about yourself.”

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