Instructor Spotlight: Laura Foss
Written On: 28 April, 2016
Related programs: Heavy Duty Equipment Technician Apprenticeship
We met with Laura Foss, an instructor in ACC's Heavy Duty Equipment Technician program, to talk about the program and her experience as an instructor.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself your background?
I grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick and moved to Brandon in 2010. I’m currently an instructor in the Heavy Duty Equipment Technician pre-employment program and apprenticeship training. When I moved to Brandon, I enrolled in the pre-employment program at ACC.
I was hired on at Caterpillar after my first year of the pre-employment program at ACC. I finished my apprenticeship with them and was then later joined ACC to actually instruct the pre-employment program and apprenticeship training. This is my first year as an instructor.
What type of things do you teach in the program?
I just finished teaching powertrain, which looks at everything after the engine. Things like clutches, transmissions, and drivetrains. I also did a level 1 Apprenticeship class that covers topics ranging from safety procedures to tearing apart engines and putting them back together. We cover quite a lot.
What attracted you to a career in trades?
I did a year of university in Saint John and realized it wasn’t for me; it wasn’t the way I enjoyed learning. I knew I wanted to try something hands-on and when I moved here in 2010, I decided to jump right into the pre-employment program to see if I liked it. I’ve always been interested in mechanics but I wasn’t really sure what it would be like. I knew I liked to be hands-on though, so I gave it a shot. I ended up really liking it and kept going which eventually led me into my job with Caterpillar. I kept learning with them and really enjoyed it. I was fortunate to have a very good job to go into right after pre-employment
What type of equipment do you use in the classroom?
We teach and train using a lot of different equipment. We use Caterpillar, Cummins, John Deere; pretty much any kind of equipment you can think of. In powertrains, we focused on trucks to start because it’s the easiest to learn at first. We basically use anything and everything in the classroom.
How do you approach teaching in the classroom?
My general rule of thumb is respect; it has to go both ways. I can’t walk into the classroom and just demand a student’s respect, I have to earn it. I start from day one respecting them hoping they respect me in return.
I try really hard to make learning fun for my students. Nobody likes to be stuck in a classroom when are probably coming from a job working outside every day. I keep it light, but ultimately everyone needs to respect one another. We’ve got a lot of content to cover the program and skills they need to learn. I’m here to help guide them through it all.
What are some jobs or careers students can expect after they complete the program?
Pre-employment students, even after they finish their first year can find jobs in anything really; parts, service technicians, sales, anything. Students mainly coming out of the program will find a job as a technician though. Once students have the skills and training you can go down any path in trades. They can even apply their skills to another trade like automotive if they’d like. Some students do go back to work on a farm because the skills they learn here are also applicable to a lot of farm equipment. It’s a great foundation to have and transferable to a lot of different areas. There are many options available.
Do you have any advice for students looking to get into trades?
If you don’t have any background knowledge, the pre-employment program is a great place to start. It’s a great stepping-stone if you’re interested in pursuing any trade. I would definitely start with that. It’s really attractive to potential employers and shows them that you’ve taken the first step in preparing yourself in the career. They’ll be more likely to sponsor you moving into an apprenticeship.
If you are coming to school it’s really great if you can commit yourself to it while you’re here. Doing your homework, reading, and just trying gain knowledge and new skills are really important when you’re first starting out. Take advantage of the opportunities and experiences you have available so you can grow your career and as an individual.
What do you enjoy most about being an instructor?
I like to talk and I like the relationships I get to build with the students. I like hearing about their experiences and backgrounds. Learning about others perspectives helps me form the way I think and look things, which is important when I’m trying to teach things. That’s something I always missed as a technician, the social aspect. Here at ACC, I get to interact with a lot of people on a daily basis.
Have you enjoyed your time here in Brandon?
If you like small towns you’ll definitely like Brandon. I say small town but Brandon isn’t really that small, it just has a small-town feeling. It’s got a lot to offer without being overly large. I’m not a big city person. It’s a great post-secondary city with lots to offer from both ACC and Brandon University.
Was there anything that surprised you about the career?
No surprise but there was definitely a learning curve. Especially being a small person and not a 200-pound man. I had to find different ways to do the same tasks. That was kind of the biggest hurdle at first, at least in the trade. You have to be detail oriented and take your time so you don’t make a mistake and avoid having a repair come back to you or the shop.
With teaching, the main struggle is the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to prepare for class. It is quite a big change from my past jobs. It didn’t take me by surprise; I just didn’t realize how much there was. It’ll get easier over time.
How do you see technology play a part in how you teach or what you do in the classroom?
Technology plays a large part as an instructor. For example in my class, each student has a remote that they can use to answer questions that I ask throughout my presentations. I’m able to see their answers on my computer and know which topics I need to explain more. There’s always new technology that is coming into our classroom that allows us to help students.
As far as the trade, technology is always advancing so we have to be really conscious of what is happening in the industry. When our students are out looking for jobs and first getting into their career we want them to have the most up-to-date skills available.
What is it like being a female in the trades industry?
I didn’t have any expectations going in. Working at Caterpillar was great and it was a really easy transition into my position. I fit in really well there.
As an instructor at ACC, it’s a little different because there are more people and more of a turnover with students. It’s a big deal because I’m one of the first female trade instructors at the college. That’s been a little bit different. Not in a bad way, just different. I’ve had a lot of attention from people and the media that want to ask me questions about my career. It’s attention I didn’t really expect and I didn’t set out to make it a goal being a female mechanic.
I struggled quite a bit before I came into the trade with that stereotype. I don’t look or fit the description of a traditional mechanic. I don’t dress or fit the stereotype that even I had formed in my own mind of what a mechanic is. That was my own fault as well, stereotyping the career. I struggled with that in high school. I knew I wanted to do a trade but that stereotype held me back for a long time.
I might not always like the attention but I have to think about it as letting other women know that it is a career option. It might not be for everyone and I’m not trying to say that every female should become a mechanic but it definitely is an option. It’s hard work but I really like it. I get to use my hands and experience great things.
Do you have any plans for the summer?
This will be my first summer off since high school. I’m planning a trip to go back to New Brunswick for three weeks, which I’m really excited for. I’ll have to come back and prep for next year but I’m going to enjoy a little bit of a break first.
Thank you for your time, Laura.
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