From school to shop: One woman’s journey into collision repair

By Erin McLaughlin
Fredericton, New Brunswick — May 31, 2017 — Emilie Duguay always knew that she wanted to go into the trades, though it wasn’t until near the end of high school when she discovered collision repair as a career option. It was a discovery that would result in her securing employment at CSN-Dana’s Collision Center and in Duguay becoming the only woman to have completed the Automotive Paint and Work program at the Collège Communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick (CCNB). 
“In high school I wanted to be a welder like my dad, but one day my older sister (a boilermaker) came home with a flash on her arm,” says Duguay. She quickly realized that she didn’t want to risk getting hurt herself, so she began to consider other options. “I thought about becoming a machinist, but I learned the job was becoming computerized. I wanted to do something where I would be working with my hands and moving around.” 
Duguay attended a day-long Automotive Paint and Body program at CCNB to get a feel for whether or not it was something she would be interested in. 
“Going to that class for a day really showed me what they do. They actually made us work, I painted and worked with my hands, and it was a lot of fun. I really, really liked it,” she says. It was from this program that Duguay finally realized that she wanted to pursue a career as a collision repair technician. “We didn’t just stand around,” Duguay says. “We did the same work that the shop staff were doing.” 
Duguay says one of the biggest challenges in her collision repair journey, especially as a young woman, has been fitting in. “The people at CSN-Dana’s made me feel welcome right away, and I was really lucky, but sometimes people in the industry put women on a pedestal and treat them differently than the guys. I’m not here to be applauded, I’m here to work.” She also mentioned that people are often surprised when she tells them what she does for a living, which makes it difficult to fit in as well. “If you hire a girl, treat her like everyone else,” she suggests. “That’s how you’ll keep the good ones who want to work.” 
Dana Alexander, Duguay’s employer and owner of CSN-Dana’s Collision Center, speaks of Duguay’s bright personality. “She’s always smiling and singing to herself, and she’s a great team player,” he says. Alexander and Duguay came into contact soon after she graduated from CCNB in 2013, when one of her instructors recommended her to Alexander, describing her as “bright, capable and a good worker.” 
Duguay’s many accomplishments speak to this. She competed in the Skills Canada painting competition four times, placing second in 2013 and 2015, and third place in 2014 and 2016. She has also completed four “blocks,” each with a different theme and subject (including welding, paint, and frames/structural parts). With each block completed, she was able to take on more tasks around the shop, and is now trained in nearly every repair job Alexander’s shop offers. 
Duguay isn’t the first pre-employment person Alexander has brought into the shop. 
“We’ve been hiring young people out of school for several years now,” he says. There are serious benefits in doing so, as Alexander states, “it’s the only way to grow our workforce, bring diversity, and [these young workers] become loyal to you.” Currently employed in the shop are four individuals who began working under him as journeypersons, and two employees who started as apprentices. While this means more training and time, Alexander feels the benefits are worth the cost, and notes, “we have more successes than failures.” 
According to Duguay, one big difference between school and shop is that the former is more “by the book,” while in shops you’re thinking about and doing a lot of things that wouldn’t necessarily appear in a textbook. Regardless, she adds, CSN-Dana’s is very good about sticking to the books and doing things correctly. 
Today, Duguay is still striving to grow both personally and professionally. 
“I like to learn as much as I can about this industry. I want to learn about estimating next.” She notes that working has shaped her skills and abilities in ways that bleed into all aspects of her life. “[Through working at CSN-Dana’s] I’ve become more organized, patient and my work ethic is stronger. Even when I’m at home doing chores, I now think to myself ‘how can I make this more efficient?” She has come a long way, from being an uncertain high school student to a thriving collision repair technician – but achieving any goal she sets her eyes on, despite its difficulties and demands, is clearly sown right into her personality. “I don’t care what other people think, if I want to do something then I’ll do it. That’s just who I am.” 

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