Scott Baker knows a thing or two about the labour market. In his 26 years, the busy Sudburian has held nearly as many jobs. He’s installed drywall for a contracting firm, solicited donations by telephone, cooked pasta at a busy cafe, and built computers from scratch. He’s hopscotched across the province, often taking unfulfilling positions to make ends meet.
Essentially, he’s re-started his career dozens of times, sometimes by choice, but often by necessity. While his rich roster of employment experience allowed for a varied resume, it brought him little satisfaction. Now, as a second-year industrial mechanical millwright apprenticeship student at Cambrian
College in Sudbury, he finally feels excited about his vocational future. But it’s been a long journey to the top.
Born in Young’s Point, near Peterborough, Baker moved to Sudbury at the age of ten, making the Northern hub his home not long after. Work began at an early age, with odd jobs and volunteer positions filling his after-school hours. By the time he was in his third year at Lockerby Composite School, he was employed as a cook in a small bistro, and making enough cash to satisfy his teenage desires.
Interested in computer technology, Baker hooked up with a small computer consulting firm for an unpaid co-op placement term in his final year of high school. Much to his surprise, the position developed into a full-time job as a computer technician immediately following graduation. Entertaining visions of higher education, Baker had never aspired to find permanent employment out of high school. A series of circumstances, however, kept him on the path he was on.
“I was expecting to go to university,” he admits. “It just didn’t work out at the time.” Besides, earning a steady income at such a young age had its benefits, and Baker became “pretty happy” with the working life. Though he lacked formal education, he made concerted efforts to boost his skills. He pored over books in his own
time, studying new tips and industry trends. He logged extra hours in front of the screen, trying new techniques and figuring out what worked best.
His employers encouraged this growth, and Baker soon moved from being a rookie computer technician to an adept software expert. By the time the company decided
to relocate to Toronto a few years later, Baker was an integral part of the team, writing important accounting and research software. Engaged in his work, he decided to move with the company.
The transition from Sudbury to Ontario’s capital was not without its stresses for Baker. “For a time I had an apartment in both cities,” he groans. “It was pretty difficult at first.” He started to adjust to the Toronto life, thanks in large part to “a bit of a network” with fellow Northern Ontario expatriates. As his social adjustment improved, however, his employment situation began to deteriorate. He became frustrated with his lack of vacation time and long hours with the company, and began to wonder if he couldn’t do better on his own. In March of 2002, he left the company.
Burned out and tired, he took a break from full-time work to reassess his priorities, relying on savings and some independent contract work to pay the bills.
Re-assessing your career
When he decided to formally re-enter the workforce six months later, however, he rudely awoke to the status of his qualifications. “I found it was very difficult to find work,” he frankly states. “I didn’t have any credentials outside of my direct experience.” He sought a solution through a series of quick-cash jobs, working in telemarketing and sales, including one “gut-wrenching” stint selling newspaper subscriptions. Varied as they were, none of these appointments adequately reflected
his skills or ambitions. “I didn’t do very well at those jobs,” he assesses, describing each as a “bad fit.” Still in the Greater Toronto Area, he eliminated sales as an option and started working in a series of manual labour posts.
He did well in these positions, but found it difficult to find a stimulating or appropriate work environment. One job involved a prohibitively lengthy daily commute, for example, while another refused to pay him in a timely fashion. Desperate times called for a dramatic change. Baker gave it some thought, and finally decided that fter years in the workforce, it was time to get some post-secondary education.
“It was a culmination of events,”Baker recalls. “I was almost completely out of money, especially with the cost of living in Toronto (being so high). I had recently revisited Sudbury and rekindled old friendships. And my parents encouraged me to go back.” Education seemed like the perfect solution. There was only one problem: Baker didn’t know what he wanted to study. “Finding a definitive path has always been my problem,” he says wryly. Befuddled, he enlisted the services of Youth Employment Services, which helped him narrow down where his interests lay through a series of skills assessments and personality tests.
He eliminated those careers he’d had bad experiences in, and started to focus on skills he wished to enhance in his studies. Eventually, he figured it out: in order to be satisfied, he needed something spatial, hands-on, and constantly changing.
Engineering seemed a perfect fit, so Baker applied to his school of choice; unfortunately, however, he was turned down. Frustrated but undaunted, he explored other options. After doing some research on trades-based professions, he found himself drawn to a convenient option:
the SkyTech Industrial Mechanical Millwright program at Cambrian College. The program seemed perfect. It was hands-on, interactive, and intellectually stimulating. It was one of the top-rated apprentice programs in the country, boasted an awesome apprenticeship option, and just so happened to be located in his old hometown.
Settling on the path that’s right for you
Baker gained admission into the course, moved back to Sudbury, and returned to class in September of 2004. Even after more than five years in the workplace, Baker did not find the transition back into an educational setting especially difficult.
Rather, he claims to have “thrived” in his new environment. “I’d been missing that mental stimulation,” he reflects. Baker has taken on an ambitious range of duties in his new role as student. While maintaining good academic standing, he has represented fellow students to the school’s Trades Council, Students Council, and Board of Governors. Aside from satiating his desire to get involved, these experiences have helped him to make excellent connections – a must in today’s job market.
Baker will graduate from the program with apprentice status, which he calls a “perfect match” for the current, trades-focused Northern Ontario job market. “I’m going to be making a better wage than the engineers (will be), and I’m going to be working handson,” he reasons. “Plus, I get to play with all the toys!”
To fulfill this career goal, Baker has created a two-pronged job search strategy. His first tactic is to take full advantage of the college’s job-search program, which gives him access to posts not listed elsewhere. The second is to continue to connect with other industrial millwright mechanics, a task made easier by in-class interaction. Though it’s still early, the hunt is going well so far, and he is “very optimistic” he’ll land the position of his choice.
Now that he has re-settled in Northern Ontario, Baker plans to stay here, at least “for the time being.” Not only is the market hot for skilled trades people (“the industrial centre is really growing here,” he says admiringly), his fiancé, Dahnja, is currently studying at Laurentian University. With young son Damien happily bouncing around at home, Baker sees little reason to leave any time soon.
After years of struggling to find the right career path, Baker feels things finally seem to be going his way. In the end, it wasn’t convenience, or timing, or even money that fuelled his choice. It was overcoming the obstacles of indecision and procrastination, and taking on something with vigour. “The biggest thing, for me, was
finding something I really liked, and fully applying myself there,” Baker explains. “When I first started in this (industrial mechanical millwright) program, I didn’t think I wanted to do this with every fibre of my being.
But that was the wrong way to look at it. “Ultimately, for me, it was a matter of stopping on something that made sense, and putting my all into it.” He pauses.
“It was the best thing I ever did.”
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