Media & Content

Jamie McMillan, Proving Women Can Work in Construction

  Edge Factor Team   |     March 13, 2024 |   11 minute read
Jamie McMillan, Proving Women Can Work in Construction

In the journey of life, there are many twists and turns, mountaintops and valleys, mistakes and rewards, successes and failures. For Jamie McMillan, her journey into the skilled trades included dealing with neurodevelopment disorder, academic challenges, and realizing how her skills could lead to a successful career. 


In the latest episode of the new Edge Factor series, The Journey, Jamie shares her story, wrought with challenge after challenge that led to one success after another.  This month Edge Factor’s Learn & Earn features Jamie’s inspiring story in her film, From the Ground Up. where learners of all ages can dive into inspiring stories, showcasing Diversity in the Skilled Trades


Diagnosed with ADHD at a young age, during a time when knowledge and resources on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder were scarce, Jamie was placed in special education classes and had to deal with the accompanying stigma.  


In high school, Jamie struggled academically but did well in creative classes. Her father was a miner and enjoyed buying and renovating houses. He passed on some basic knowledge of tools and processes. She did well in drama, media, and shop classes but was unaware of apprenticeship opportunities or careers where these skills were valued. 


With no plan or vision for the future, Jamie dropped out of high school and took on part-time work. Her journey was just beginning.


The Higher You Climb, the Stronger You Get


After working part-time, Jamie decided to follow in her mom's footsteps, taking a short education program to become a Personal Support Worker (PSW). She enjoyed her work for a time but found it challenging to watch the people she cared for fade away, so she walked away from her career in healthcare.


Jamie went from healthcare to hospitality and worked as a waitress server. After a few years, she became discouraged by the idea that everyone around her was evolving into successful careers and she was going nowhere fast. The thought of returning to academia overwhelmed Jamie and triggered depression.


A chance run-in with an old high school classmate opened Jamie’s eyes to new opportunities.  Her former classmate was making a decent living as an Ironworker earning $100,000/year. Jamie took this newfound knowledge and was inspired to begin her career exploration journey. She learned about local apprenticeship and training opportunities and took steps to prepare to launch a new career. 


While she felt at home working with her hands on the job site, with familiar tools and learning and growing because every day was different and exciting, she faced new challenges. She was a woman working in an industry dominated by men.


Jobs Don’t Have Genders


While business leaders and executives are discussing creating a more inclusive workforce, there are still challenges ahead to see this trickle down to people working on the frontlines.


Construction is the most common industry to be hiring. From 2010 to 2018, the unemployment rate in construction reduced from 23% to 7% per year. However, statistics show that 6.2% of all construction workers are women, while 93.8% are men. 


On the job, this means women in construction are paving the way forward as they learn to overcome feelings of inadequacy, set proper boundaries, and challenge stigmas and stereotypes.


“I really don’t believe jobs have genders. I believe we are all capable of doing whatever it is we want to do.” said Jamie McMillan, “It’s a myth to believe that construction work is too hard for women. Being a PSW, nurse or another job that people assume is only a good fit for women can be difficult too.”



From the Jobsite to the Stage


Working in construction taught Jamie about life, how to have a sense of humor, how to build tough skin, how to work with different personalities, and how to choose her battles.  


She also learned about the importance of construction work itself, how essential and necessary construction workers are worldwide, and how local jobs will be around as long as humans continue to live. 


She started using her experiences on the job site to talk to future generations about what it’s like to work in construction. In her motivational talks, she is realistic about her challenges while encouraging her audience to rise to the challenge. 


She empowers young women to consider skilled trades careers as a viable pathway. She uses her own story, of being someone who appeared to have little chance of getting anywhere in life, to someone with a successful career doing what she loves.


Jamie McMillan is the founder and primary spokesperson of KickAss Careers. She is a Motivational Speaker, Journeyman Ironworker, Apprentice Boilermaker, Outreach Specialist, Author, Visionary, and Advocate for Skilled Trades, Technology, Mental Health, Homelessness, and Youth.

Through KickAss Careers, Jamie travels approximately 30 weeks a year providing engaging keynote presentations and workshops to more than 50,000 students, parents, educators, and employers each year across North America. She has gained international notoriety for opening doors and minds to the possibilities of well-paid careers in skilled trades and technology sectors.


At Edge Factor, we love to tell stories about people who are changing the world with their hands and their minds. In 2018, Jamie co-authored and created an educational coloring book. We partnered with Jamie to promote the launch of this initiative. “All the Kids on Builder Street” is a series of coloring books that promotes the importance of skilled trades to help young children explore real-world careers. The goal of this initiative is to expose children to the possibilities of amazing careers that they can have so they find a career pathway they will love.


Reaching New Goals


As shared on the Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, along with healthcare and personal care, construction jobs accounted for one-third of all new jobs through the year 2022. The U.S. Department of Education finds that across the next five years, there will be 68% more job openings in the skilled trades, with a shortage of people to fill them. 


Unfortunately, many students and job seekers with ADHD and their parents often have negative perceptions of the skilled trades. They see these jobs as hard physical work that offers no chance for advancement or financial security. 


In fact, construction and other trades offer a more direct link from education to a career for the people in a trade. This can ensure women and neurodivergent individuals greater ease in setting goals and seeing progress toward the goals while earning an average annual wage of $50,000 to $90,000. 


Jamie learned so much over the years. She still has difficult days, but learning to manage her mental health by taking up hobbies and creating support systems has helped her to be resilient, focus on the positive, and love herself.


“In life, we are going to go through hard times but at the end of the day, you have to keep taking steps forward, whether those are baby steps, or shuffling, as long as you are moving forward. Keep climbing mountains, to see more landscapes  and reach new goals.” - Jamie McMillan



Learn & Earn with Edge Factor 


In the month of March, learners of all ages are invited to create a free Edge Factor account to access career stories and earn a digital badge for their chance to win a pair of AirPods 3rd Gen! The Learn & Earn program is a fun, interactive, and incentivized way to get students excited about their potential future! Educators with a premium membership, can assign these programs for students to complete. 

We have multiple badges available - from Industry Education of Hamilton sponsored badges in the Hamilton Career Exploration, to Diversity in the Trades, Workforce Excellence Badge and this month's cinematic feature.  Create a free account, watch stories and complete interactive activities to earn a badge and get a chance to win a! Learn and Earn today.



If you are interested in learning more about what an Edge Factor Premium membership can unlock, create your free account or register for an upcoming live webinar


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