‘Red Seal’ electrician from AOK got first job in his field by chance

Mnidoo Mnising Program Manager Marilyn Stevens poses with newly Red Seal certified electrician Mike Abotosaway of Aundeck Omni Kaning. photo by Michael Erskine

Initial enquiry into auto mechanics misheard as interest in electricians’s trade

AUNDECK OMNI KANING—It has been quite the ride, but Mike Abotossaway of Aundeck Omni Kaning is the proud owner of a Red Seal certification as an electrician—although he had to wait a bit for the official paper with the seal.

The Red Seal Program is the Canadian standard of excellence for skilled trades that was formerly known as the Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program. It sets common standards to assess the skills of tradepersons across Canada and is administered by the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship. Each province and territory has a director appointed for this purpose.

“I am checking the mail every day,” he laughed. “They keep assuring me it’s on its way.”

Mr. Abotosaway began his journey to becoming a Red Seal electrician almost by chance. “I started with Gerry Ense (the late M’Chigeeng based electrician). I was kind of lucky I landed the job,” he recalled. “I was in the band office to discuss the possibility of going to school to be a mechanic.”

Craig Abotossaway happened to be in the front office and overheard part of the conversation. “He thought I said electrician,” recalled Mr. Abotosaway. The band had just awarded the contract for the work on the new subdivision and contractors like to hire local workers. “They had just hired Gerry (Ense Electric) to build the houses in Amelia Hieghts. They suggested I should apply, so I did.”

How did that work out?

“I absolutely loved the work,” said Mr. Abotosaway. “I wish I had found it a lot sooner. It is not so often that you are going to find a job you really like going to every morning.”

A lot of that early enthusiasm may have been generated by the boss he found himself working for, the late Mr. Ense.

“He would always call me up and say ‘Mike should have these books’,” recalled M’nidoo Mnising Training and Employment program manager Marilyn Stevens.

“He would take me to meetings with him,” added Mr. Abotosaway. “Every three years there is a new code book. Even though I was still wet behind the ears with only one month’s experience he was always pushing me to learn more.”

That first job was back in 2011, but it takes at least 9,000 hours before you can write your exam for the Red Seal, noted Mr. Abotosaway. Although things could have taken a setback with the passing of Mr. Ense, once again luck intervened. “They were building the new complex here in AOK,” he said. “Council at the time suggested they should hire someone from the community. Dave was good enough to sign me up as his apprentice. We have been going ever since.”

Over the intervening years Mr. Abotosaway has gone away for trade school, usually in Sault Ste. Marie, but this year in Midland during January. When it came to writing his exams, Mr. Abotosaway discovered there is some advantages to living in the North.

“Some of the guys from school were having a hard time booking a space to write their exams,” he said. While the students from southern Ontario were unable to write until the first of April. “They asked me ‘when are you going to write?’ and I said ‘next Tuesday’.”

The tests are no cakewalk, even when you are hitting the books hard and working on your schooling daily. “When I walked out of there I was convinced I had blown it,” he said. He need not have worried, he aced the exam. “But the questions they were asking, some of them were right out there.” It isn’t a minor inconvenience to blow the exam. “You have to wait at least 15 days before you can apply to write them again.”

The hardest part of the process was definitely being away from his young family, as Mr. Abotosaway has a wife and three children—and that brought its own unique challenges. But he found a great deal of support coming from Ms. Stevens and her program.

“She was always there for me,” he said. “When I was in the Sault (Ste. Marie) I was going through a bit of a meltdown. I told my wife Billy I was just about ready to pack it in. I was on my way to the office when Marilyn called.”

The support of Mnidoo Mnising was also critical. “I could not have managed it on what was available from the band,” he said. “It was a great relief to be able to focus on school and not have to worry about everything. If you are young and have no family, maybe it would be different. But for me no way it could have happened if I didn’t have access to Marilyn and her program.”

That simple check in and the calm assurance that she projected helped him to bridge that moment of doubt. “I heard you were doing really well,” she had told him.

Family and the support of his wife also played an important role.

“My wife has been amazing,” he said. “While I was away at school, she had double duty, she had to be mom and dad and she had her own job as well.”

Mr. Abotosaway also deserves some credit, however. “I just stayed in and hit the books,” he said of his time away at school. “Just keep your eye on the prize,” he advised those following along behind. “Stay tuned on what you are there for and don’t lose track.”