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Smarts, strength and resilience

Christine MacKenzie inspects the weld on a piece of equipment with a flashlight. She is wearing a white hardhat, a blue smock, safety glasses and black gloves.
Christine MacKenzie is a graduate of the Welding Inspection and Quality Control program at Pictou Campus.

The downturn in the oil industry spelled disaster for Christine MacKenzie, who was working in Fort McMurray when crude oil prices plummeted. “I was out of a job. I lost my house. Everything was gone.”

Blaming herself for her family’s misfortune, Christine looked to find a way out of financial hardship. “There was opportunity in it too. It gave me time to go back to school.”

At 52, Christine enrolled in Welding Inspection and Quality Control at Pictou Campus, returning to the classroom after more than 30 years in the workforce. 

While the decision may seem unusual to some, Christine has been gaining the skills needed for success in the field since the 80’s.

Long way round

“When I was in high school, women had four choices,” says Christine. “You could be a homemaker, a nurse, a secretary or a teacher. I decided to further my education and enrol in computer sciences. But I hated it.”

The realization would lead Christine to leave university and seek a new opportunity through a fulltime position in the Canadian Forces Army Reserves. After several years away from home, she longed to be closer to family and friends.

She returned to Nova Scotia in 1992 and began working at a restaurant in New Glasgow.

A better life

“I’d never worked in customer service before,” she says. “I was so scared, but there were no jobs for admins at the time. I kept looking.”

By her 30’s, Christine had a family of her own to support and wanted more. That’s when she convinced a local law firm to let her study in their library. Her tenacity, self-taught abilities and keen attention to detail soon landed her a job as a legal administrator and earned her a reputation for quality work.

“Eventually, I was able to give back to those who’d helped me in learning the legal trade,” says Christine. “I covered other admins vacations, helped teach them new programs and assisted whenever asked.”

When a friend called looking for a skilled administrator to take on a 12-week contract in Fort McMurray, Christine jumped at the chance. The weeks turned into years as her talent to quickly up-skill soon had her taking on increasingly more difficult roles.

“I was the one preparing inspection packages, reviewing turnover documentation and assuring quality control,” she says. “A lot of the time I was teaching the inspectors how to prepare their documents correctly. It was a bit frustrating though. I was making less money and I knew I could do their job if I had the proper credentials.”

Christine MacKenzie

It can be hard for women in trades. I’d seen how people who went to NSCC were respected — whether they were a woman or not. I knew that the other tradespeople respected NSCC grads because they have technical knowledge, background and confidence. I knew I’d have the qualifications to back me up.

Christine MacKenzie
Certified Welding Inspector

The crash

“After losing everything in the crash, I sent out hundreds of resumes, but got no callbacks,” she says of the moment she decided to build on her years of experience. “I knew I could get a better, higher paying job through training.”

While there were options on where to go, Christine says she only considered NSCC. “I wanted the technical detail and hands-on experience that NSCC offered. I wanted to be great at my job.”

She adds that being a woman in a male-dominated field was also a major factor in her choice.

“It can be hard for women in trades,” she says. “I’d seen how people who went to NSCC were respected — whether they were a woman or not. I knew that the other tradespeople I’d be working with respected NSCC grads because they have technical knowledge, background and confidence. I knew I’d have the qualifications to back me up.”

Second career sparks

While training at Pictou Campus, Christine says her instructors brought real-world knowledge, industry connections and unique insight to the classroom that strengthened the learning experience.

Along with two work placement positions, she was also chosen to assist when an international energy company sought NSCC’s help with non-destructive examination work. “When you’re doing a shutdown like that, it’s important to pay attention to site safety and draw on your confined space training,” she says of her efforts to evaluate equipment, gather data and ensure its quality and suitability for use.

Adding, “It gave me real experience as a welding inspector and allowed me to put my training into action.”

Today, Christine is working towards her Welding Inspector Level 2 Certification. “My diploma prepared me for all the levels — from 1 to 3 — so it’s really just getting the time I need under my belt and writing the Canadian Welding Bureau tests, which I know I’m ready for.”

She adds, “Fortunately for me too, I love the work. I’m always learning and grateful to be part of a team. Whether it’s inspections, quality assurance or document control — I do it all and I’m proud.”