A career in the skilled trades isn’t for the faint of heart; it’s tough and you have to have a bit of thick skin. Despite this fact, after only spending one week shadowing her father, Jess Bannister was hooked on the skilled trades. “I found it so interesting and exciting. Every day was like, where are we going next?” Now, she finds herself in her second year of her apprenticeship at her family company, Cam Cool Refrigeration Inc, where she also is the operations manager.
After leaving university, she started her career as an executive assistant in the financial sector where she worked for around 10 years. When I was choosing a career, it never occurred to any one of us, not myself, nor my family, that I could do what my dad does. But my brother automatically went into it. Even when I started working with the family business, I automatically went into the office,” shared Bannister. “I feel like if I had maybe seen another woman out there doing what my dad was doing, it may have been a consideration. But I had no examples. I had no idea girls could even be what my dad did.”
Through her social media brand, HVAC Jess, Bannister strives to inspire more females to keep an open mind about a career in the trades. It isn’t for the faint of heart and might not be the right career move for everyone, said Bannister. “It’s tough and you got to have a bit of a thick skin. Physically you get dirty and it’s a hard job. It’s physically demanding, and you’ve got to be willing to do things like sometimes crawling on a dirty floor under a track and you just got to do it because that’s part of the job.”
Her Instagram account reaches over 10,000 followers, where she documents the day-to-day life of an HVAC apprentice in Canada. Furthermore, by using social media, she strives to break the persistent stigma that surrounds the trades.
“This is the kind of message I’m trying to portray in my photos and social media. I always try to be well put together and professional-looking,” she explains. “It is a trade, but it’s a skilled trade. It really does take knowledge and expertise, and it’s not for the faint of heart. That’s for sure.”
Outside her growing influence on social media, Bannister has taken her passion for advocacy regarding women in the trades to the next level. She was part of the initial launch team for Women in HVAC Canada, an association that focuses on supporting females within the industry. She sits as the chair of the board for the association. Since its initial launch back in March 2020, the association has brought in new members and started to collect sponsors. “The reception from the industry, in general, has been really good. People and companies want to get involved; they want to show their support. We have a number of sponsors, which are going to help us fund things like scholarships and bursaries and stuff for girls that want to get into HVAC,” shared Bannister.
Her favourite experience, so far, with the association was attending CIPHEX West last November in Vancouver. During the event, she was able to speak with many different people and said that everyone was just so excited and receptive to the work the association has been doing. “It kind of validated what we’re doing since everything up to that point has been online and just seeing those people and hearing their stories. Everyone had a story about their sister, cousin, or whoever, or they had stories where they had hired women in the past and they were so great, and it was just really cool and refreshing to hear those stories. I was like why aren’t those more mainstream! Why am I hearing about this now? Why can’t we spread that message out to everybody?”
While she still has a few more years left in her journey to become a licensed refrigeration mechanic, she would love to one day speak at schools and share with young kids her experience with the trades and how it is a viable career opportunity. She explains that when you go into schools or browse the internet, they are oftentimes men that are center stage. She challenges this and wonders why there can’t be more friendly female faces upfront.