A Job in the Nuclear Field as a Woman

Monday February 4th, 2019 – Sofia Colley Aquino

Today I had the lovely opportunity to interview Ana Aquino De Colley, my mother, and an Edicurrent Field Supervisor at the company BWXT Technologies Ltd., located in Cambridge, Ontario. BWXT Canada Ltd. designs, manufactures, commissions, and services nuclear power generation equipment. Including equipment such as CANDU ® and Pressurized Water Reactor steam generators, nuclear fuel and fuel components, critical plant components, parts, and related plant services. BWXT provides knowledge and expertise to all areas of nuclear power plant operations. Services that are provided through staff augmentation, specific scope projects or on turnkey basis.

Ana moved to Canada from Mexico at the age of twenty-nine with her husband and two children. Ana is an engineer completing her undergraduate degree from the Universidad Politecnica De Chiapas located in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico. She started working on a contract basis, was promoted to a full-time position, and eventually to the role of supervisor. In a mostly male dominated field, Ana acts as a role model for females looking to work in the nuclear power generating field, as well as any other field that is mostly comprised of men. I wanted to interview her to explore the perspective of females in a male dominant field and the technical field, to discover how her journey has progressed as well as how it has been affected by being a woman and immigrant.

Q: Okay, so to begin, where do you work and what is your job title?

A: I work at BWXT nuclear services my job title is Edicurrent Field Supervisor.


Q: How long have you been working with the company?

A: Almost 13 years, since the Fall of 2006. Wow, I didn’t realize how long it has been, time goes by so fast.


Q: Why did you decide to work for this company?

A: This company was offering training with no experience required, as a recent immigrant to Canada I was looking for work that did not require a lot of pre-requisites. I saw the opportunity to take training for free and acquire a job. It seemed like a perfect fit.


Q: Why did this type of work interest you, and how did you get started?

A: Honestly, the reason I went into this field was because I needed a job. I was a recent immigrant with a family to provide for. I did not have any formal schooling or work experience in Canada so it was hard to find work. At the time I applied for the job I was living in the Bruce County Area. In this area there is a company with the most nuclear jobs available, this company is Bruce Power. Since I was living in the area I thought it would be a good idea to apply and I got the job.


Q: What do you like most about this company?

A: They offer training for their employees, there are incentives for members that want to improve their work skills, there is flexibility, the pay is comparable to other industries. I believe this is a high paying job and I earn a good wage. Yes, it’s true that there are a lot of hours but, there is not a lot of physical work. It is demanding but it does come with its downtime, so there is some sort of balance.


Q: Have you felt like you experienced challenges in your profession due to being a woman (engineering is male dominated) or an immigrant? If so how did you overcome them?

A: Yes, to both. Being a woman around men, some of the comments they make or the language used in “blue-collar” jobs might be offensive to some females. So, I have ensured that I let the guys on my crew know when their comments are out of line or out of tone, in a respectful way. As an immigrant, I had to work on my communicating skills. As well, I had to show the crew that I could do the work before I could say that I could do it. Because I am a female and an immigrant I have different ways to approach problems. I have come up with different ways to solve problems because of my unique perspective. So, being an immigrant and a woman has had its benefits. There are boundaries at work. I work with mostly men, so I have shown that I can do the work physically and mentally to the point that I display that I can do things better than other guys on my crew. This has helped me to gain the respect I need. Also, being professional around the guys on my crew has made the guys accept me as another member of the team and do not see me simply for my gender.


Q: What advice would give a female engineering student about to come into the field?

A: The advice that I would give to a female is what priorities do you have? Do you have priorities of a family? If you do, will your family be okay with you working long hours, shift work, and working away from home? Also, ensuring that the female knows to set her boundaries as to what she accepts and does not accept. These boundaries will be tested. The female needs to know that she must speak up when she sees issues. Also, finding other females that can mentor and guide you in the workplace. You also need to be able to do the job physically so that you can demonstrate that you can do the work.


Q: What do you see as the best part or most interesting part of your career?

A: (Laughs) Honestly, the salary and money. It is challenging, there is always something different going on. It’s not a repetitive job, you do not get bored easily. Also, there is always room for improvement and learning if desired.


Q: What skills have been most useful to you in your job?

A: Personal skills, being a female and a mother has helped me to understand and deal with team members to ensure that there is a sense of a family among the crew. A family that is respectful of each other. Technical skills as well have neem useful, being and engineer and being able to solve problems, and finding different ways to solve problems. Being able to create and implement systems, to manage equipment and personnel.


Q: In a technically skill focused industry like engineering how important do you see soft skills (communication, teamwork, leadership) as being valuable to your role?

A: I think that is the most important tool that I have. Because I am able to communicate, to solve problems, and I am capable to ask crew members to perform the job.


Q: What are the major qualifications for success in this occupation?

A: Attitude, that is major for me. Desire to learn as well, being able to be coachable, and being innovative.


Q: What does the company do to contribute to its employees’ professional development?

A: They are funds for taking courses, and getting certified in NDE. There are supervisor trainings if requested.


Q: From your perspective, what are the problems you see working in this field?

A: Communication, the companies are getting to big that there are some internal groups that do not communicate with each other. As well time pressure, there is a schedule to meet and not everyone is aware of the customer demands.


Q; What interests you least about the job or creates the most stress?

A: Coaching personnel, I do not like telling people that they did a bad job.


Q: If your job progresses as you like, what would be the next step in your career?

A: To be a site manager.


Q: What does a site manager do?

A: Manages the job, this person will have 3-4 field supervisors that they interact with, as well as interacting with the customer. Ensuring they meet schedule while managing resources and personnel. Finally they have to oversee the quality assurance of the service provided.


Q: How has your job affected your lifestyle?

A: It does affect my family, working long hours away from home. It affects the relationship with my partner. Vacation, sometimes I cannot take the vacation at a specific time it depends on the job, we need to accommodate to the job.


Q: If your work were suddenly eliminated, what kinds of work do you feel prepared to do?

A: Being a supervisor in a similar industry, in the nuclear industry. Being a quality control personnel. It is possible to be re-trained and do something else.


For more information on Ana and her story check out this short commercial that highlights her success as a female and immigrant in the nuclear power service field. The link can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGI6UKEHKo0