How a Windsor woman is becoming a journeyperson electrician in her 60s

·2 min read
Cheryl Durning is working toward becoming a journeyperson electrician. (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)
Cheryl Durning is working toward becoming a journeyperson electrician. (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)

Cheryl Durning has been a stay-at-home mom, an insurance adjuster, a call centre supervisor, but about seven years ago — while working retail — she was laid off.

So she went back to school in her mid-50s to become an electrician.

"It was a good challenge for me, a good opportunity that I didn't have before and I went with it. And it's a very rewarding job."

While many at Durning's age are thinking of retirement, she is taking her career to the next level. She has completed her apprenticeship, and in the coming months will write the Red Seal exam to become a journeyperson.

Women represented just 4.5 per cent of electrician apprentices registered in 2020, according to Statistics Canada. At the same time, there's a labour shortage in the skilled trades, with the industry looking to attract new talent.

"I ... was told when I first started that if I was an electrician, I'd never be unemployed again, and that's a true story," said Durning.

Dale Molnar/CBC
Dale Molnar/CBC

While the training and the work has had its challenges, Durning said she also had to endure some sexism along the way.

"I've had people take their hands away from me, didn't want to shake my hand because I was female. I have been asked why a female was on the job site and I said, 'because I'm the one who's qualified to do the job, sir,'" she said.

Durning's boss, Michael Dupuis, the owner of DS Electric, sings her praises.

"She's fantastic," he said. "She's worked for me for well over seven years now. No complaints. Excellent service. She knows her job really well."

Carlyn Bistany, one of Durning's daughters, is inspired by her mom. She said Durning has had challenges in life including leaving home as a teenager and dropping out of school.

"I tell everybody I can the story of my mom ... going back to school, not letting her past kind of dictate her future. And then, I mean, becoming an electrician in her 60s. It's cool. It's crazy. It's different."

Bistany said she's very proud of her mom, who used to instill in her the importance of relying on oneself in life.

"Growing up, she used to always hate Cinderella and would always tell us, 'nobody's coming to rescue you. There isn't a prince out there coming to take you. You have to rescue yourself.' That's just...that's my mom," Bistany said, her voice filled with emotion.

Durning has a message for anyone out there who wonders if this job is for them.

"It's a rewarding job. And it doesn't matter if you're female or male, if you are at all interested in trades and you're good with hands on-tools, that sort of thing, it's a great job. "

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