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'My work is very meaningful': New Calgarian breaks barriers to begin carpentry career

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A newcomer to Calgary originally from China says she's been able to start a second life as an apprentice carpenter and credits a program through the non-profit Momentum for preparing her for work in a field where her diverse identity is often underrepresented.

"I never thought about being a carpenter in China because the training system is not very well-developed," said Lexi Zhang from her workplace as an apprentice carpenter at Zero Squared, a tiny home builder.

She added, "Canada is a very diverse country, and they encourage women."

Zhang and her wife moved to Calgary in late 2019, as they wanted to live in a country that protected same-sex marriage rights.

She soon enrolled in the pre-apprenticeship trades training program at Momentum, a charity that helps the disadvantaged achieve success.

She says she saw a poster regarding carpentry, and decided to go for it.

"In Canada also I saw a lot of women carpenters, it inspired me. I thought oh, being a woman, being a female carpenter here, it's very cool," said Zhang.

HIRED AT ZERO SQUARED

After a brief job placement spring 2020 she was hired at Zero Squared and continues to pursue her full qualification as a carpenter.

Her boss says she's a strong character for having overcome adversity.

"I think it's great for Lex to represent those communities, because (being a) woman in construction, it's challenging," said Scott Wilson, founding partner.

Leaders at Momentum say Lexi's story demonstrates that people who are typically underrepresented in the skilled trades sector are able to find meaningful careers.

"There's huge labour market challenges in trades. We need more people in trades in Alberta. It is a really good career path, but some people don't know that it's a really good career path," said Jeff Loomis, executive director of Momentum.

He adds that the employment rate for graduates of the publicly-funded program is at 80 per cent, back to pre-pandemic levels.

Zhang says she's found purpose in pursuing a new passion, while embracing all aspects of her identity as a lesbian, visible-minority newcomer pursuing a skilled trade.

"I build a house for people," she says. "My work is very meaningful."

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