At 6 years old, Frédérick Lamontagne had already found her calling: she wanted to be a mechanic, like her father, and would take over the family business. If anyone was prejudiced, too bad for them! Today, at 20 years old, she has just started her career as a heavy vehicle mechanic in her father’s garage, in Lévis, while dreaming of the challenges that await her at the 2021 Skills Competition. For this young woman who is a mechanics enthusiast, the future is bright.
Hands Full of Gunk
The idea of getting her hands dirty with oil and grease has never stopped Frédérick Lamontagne in her desire to make a living from her love of mechanic work. “Getting dirty! Yes, that’s part of the job! All you need is a good shower and everything washes off!” Being a heavy vehicle mechanic is not the easiest job, physically speaking. Few women join the trade: 98.4% of mechanics in this field are men, according to Camo Route, the Sectoral Workforce Committee for road transport in Québec.
Frédérick’s mother had some concerns. She was worried Frédérick would be in conflict with the men or that she would injure herself. But in today’s industry, the workshops are all equipped with hoisting equipment and the reasoning that women are not strong enough no longer holds water. “You may need strength, but what you need most of all is technique,” says Frédérick. Amongst the other qualities she identifies for a non-traditional career path: perseverance, determination, personal investment, and intelligence. “Also, being stubborn doesn’t hurt,” she adds with a laugh.
You may need strength, but what you need most of all is technique.
The Garage, Like a Second Home
Seeing her drive big trucks in and out of the garage is quite a sight. “I have always been fascinated by trucks. When I was little, I was so impressed by their gigantic size. Today, the engines and any components that give me a hard time pique my interest and curiosity.”
The love she has for this profession is nothing new; being with her father and spending part of her teenage years in the garage, she was bitten by the mechanics bug. As a child, she played the violin and went horseback riding. She thought briefly about going to CEGEP, but quickly abandoned this idea. “I did not enjoy school very much. The garage is like my house. I feel good there, I feel at home, it’s a place that is full of joie de vivre.” After high school, she began a DVS program in Mécanique de véhicules lourds in Saint-Romuald (program available in French only in Québec). “This vocational training centre is located right near my house. As this is a field where everyone knows each other, my father knew who my teacher would be. I had no doubt that I would receive a good training.” But not everything was peachy in the world of heavy-duty trucks. Some students were initially hostile towards Frédérick, the only girl in the group, in particular because she already had a wealth of knowledge and experience.
More Than a Job... a Passion!
She managed to integrate into the group within a few weeks, notably by helping the guys who had never touched an engine. She earned their friendship through kindness, and they were quick to seek her out for advice whenever the teacher was busy. “I felt respected by the other students, especially because I did not act like a princess and my desire to learn and my passion were real and communicative. I belonged in the class, just like any of the other guys.” She adds that even the vocational centre’s principal, who was concerned about her well-being, made sure she was not hurt by the jabs that were at times incessant.
Diagnostic testing, repairs, oil changes, engine reconditioning, suspension or shock absorber replacement: Frédérick masters it all. She was quick to earn her stripes. But it would be false to believe that it has always been easy for her. Some modules were difficult, and she had to retake a class that she failed. “It is a very comprehensive and interesting training. I loved the classes that focused on hydraulics, electricity, and the module on engines. In fact, those are the three classes that gave me the most trouble, but I like a good challenge. Pushing my limits and learning new things. I take pride in seeing a truck leave the garage; when it looks good, is well done, and running smoothly. I am meticulous and perseverant. That is not specific to my job, but rather my personality.”
It is a very comprehensive and interesting training. I loved the classes that focused on hydraulics, electricity, and the module on engines. In fact, those are the three classes that gave me the most trouble, but I like a good challenge.”
A Trade in High Demand
Road transport has seen a major boom in the past twenty years, as it has gained the advantage over rail travel. This has translated to a high demand for mechanics; graduates in the industry have no trouble finding work. The shortage of personnel in the field has opened the door for women, who have been timid in their arrival. As for Frédérick, when she finished her DVS in May 2019, she opted to join the family business that has just celebrated its tenth anniversary and where in addition to her father, her mother is an administrative assistant and her sister is a parts clerk. What is it like working with your family? “Obviously, we have all kinds of stories from the shop,” says the mechanic. “Also, my father tends to protect me from the harder jobs because he is worried that I will hurt myself. But at the same time, he encourages me to push myself.” In addition to her work, Frédérick decided to enroll in an AVS program in Mécanique spécialisée d’équipement lourd (program available in French only in Québec) to further her knowledge of certain notions such as engine computer diagnostic, injection systems, advanced exhaust treatment systems and advanced transmission systems.
By putting in the effort, Frédérick Lamontagne achieved her goal, but this field is one of the few remaining male bastions, and the older generations hold on to stigmatizing attitudes with their outdated misogynistic views. Frédérick says, “We are lucky to work in a place where customers saw my sister and I grow up. Obviously, being the boss’s daughter gives me a certain type of protection. Aside from a negative experience with a very insistent customer, I work in a very pleasant environment. It is a respectful, friendly work atmosphere with a team of eight closely-knit people.” In a few years, she hopes to team up with her sister to take over the family business, with the help of her parents.
A Boys Club?
To make the industry more attractive to women, Frédérick Lamontagne hopes that more visibility will be given to female role models. “Girls like me who work in garages, but are reluctant to share their story, because they worry people will say they are seeking attention. But we need successful role models.”
Girls who show pride in being a mechanic. It’s the best way to let others know that it is possible.”