One of NAIT’s newest teachers has come full circle. Cecile Bukmeier, who started in NAIT’s pre-employment program after high school, has recently become the first female teacher in the Autobody program.
Her love of the industry started early. “My dad was a mechanic when I was growing up, so whenever I went to visit him we were working in the garage and I was always asking to help him.”
It was a hot rod magazine, however, that was the final trigger to spark Bukmeier’s career.
“I was reading a hot rod magazine and saw this candy paint job, just the most insane car … I read the credits underneath the photo, and saw that someone had painted it. I thought, ‘somebody painted this car?’ I didn’t even know people could do this. I want to do this.”
The door to the autobody world was opened and the Registered Apprenticeship Program at her high school organized a placement at a local shop near Bukmeier’s high school.
That’s not to say that it’s always been smooth sailing for Bukmeier. She’s had to be persistent and uphold a rather thick skin to follow her dreams in a largely male dominated industry.
“On my interview [for RAP], the owner brought me around the shop and was like, ‘you know, we don’t get a lot of girls in the back, it’s a lot of guys working here and it’s a really tough, dirty job. I think you would be more suited to being a receptionist.’”
Bukmeier insisted that she was interested in the shop rather than doing paperwork and they decided to take her on. Although she was in the environment she aspired to, it was mostly floor sweeping and taking out garbage as opposed to learning the industry.
“I kept asking these guys if they could show me anything and kept getting turned down. It was annoying; I didn’t want to sweep the floors all the time. I understood that I had to pay my dues but I had read what a prepper does and I knew there were a lot of parts I could potentially sand but they never gave me the shot to go and do that.”
This discrimination would persist through the following years while Bukmeier worked to complete her apprenticeship. She became accustomed to walking into many shops, resumé in hand and getting turned away or brushed aside.
Scott Sinclair, department head of Transportation at NAIT, recognized Bukmeier had a special skill.
“I met Cecile when she was a student of mine in the auto body pre-employment class and there was definitely a spark with her then … she was one of the top students in the class, progressed through the program, and did very well in all periods of it.”
Bukmeier did so well at NAIT, in fact, that the Alberta government contacted her about competing in the provincial trades skills competition. Winning this, she moved on to the national competition and dominated there as well.
Following the competition, Bukmeier returned to work and was contacted by NAIT staff about an unexpected opening in their program. Sinclair explains they keep in touch with a lot of their students after graduation, and they had followed Bukmeier’s career as a journeyperson.
“We liked the energy she had about her, not only her skill set,” he says. “We had never had a female teacher in the auto body program, and encouraged her to apply. She did, and she interviewed extremely well.”
Bukmeier, however, was nervous about applying for the job.
“I didn’t know about being an instructor,” said Bukmeier. “It took so long to be taken seriously in the industry, so to be in the forefront, training apprentices and being in direct contact with these shop owners who potentially may not like me because I overcame it. I had just got comfortable, now am I going to have to fight again to be taken seriously because I’m young and a female in the autobody trade?”
Of course, Bukmeier decided to apply for the job and, since being hired, is enjoying the position. Sinclair is happy to have Bukmeier on the staff and pleased to have someone with such passion and skill teaching future auto body technicians.
“She’s very much a mentor for our female students who come through … having a female who’s been very successful is very advantageous. She’s an excellent role model.”
A welcome addition to NAIT, Bukmeier, who started out as a frustrated student herself, now acts as a supporter and inspiration for those following a similar path.
– Kelsey Baker