In northern Alberta, an all-women class recently graduated with their heavy equipment operator certificates.

Lakeisha Metsikassus, 22, has already found a job as a heavy equipment operator in her home community of Fox Lake.

“I hope to inspire other women to do whatever they want to do,” she said.

Little Red River Cree Nationhas three communities:Fox Lake, John D’Or Prairie, and Garden River.

Metsikassus was the only applicant from Fox Lake for the 13-week program. She applied for the job at the public works department three days after graduating.

They learned how to operate six different heavy equipment machines, including a grader, dozer, excavator, loader, rubber tire backhoe, and an articulated rock truck.

“Every time I ask the experienced operators questions, they just tell me what to do,” she said. “They don’t laugh at me when I ask.”

Confidence is the key to success

The program was delivered by the Interior Heavy Operator Equipment School (IHE) in Alberta and British Columbia. Instructors can deliver courses remotely in communities they partner with through a mobile division.

Remote instructor Russ Prosser described the course as one of the best he’s ever taught and will be the model for all future remote courses.

“I have never seen a group of students, not just women, but students, pick it up the way these girls picked it up,” said Prosser.

“It’s as if they’ve done it before, that’s how good they were,” he said.

According to Prosser, the key to success is confidence.

“With heavy equipment, if you’re a good operator, you’re a good operator. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man.”

Christine Hansen, IHE’s director of operations and business development, said no one expected the class to be all women.

“What was interesting was, when we talked about certain criteria that would increase the chance of the participants’ success, at no point did race or sex come up, and rightly so,” Hansen said.

“We just assumed it would be a mix of both sexes as most of our programs are.”

Since Hansen has been with the company for a decade, the number of women enrolling in courses has gone from roughly six to eight percent to now more than 10 percent.

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