In her teens, Laura King always hung out with the guys, restoring old cars and doing body work on them. The cars, obviously.
“But still,” she said, “I never thought I would make a career out of it — even when I sewed over my own finger in high school sewing class!”
She works at Otto’s BMW by day, where she’s an out lesbian, and holds workshops for women on getting to know their cars in her spare time.
King often hears women complaining about their lack of understanding on how their cars work — which inspired her to show women what’s under their hoods.
“I wanted to give women power over how their car works,” King said, “At the workshops, I break it down in layman’s terms. For instance, I’ll show them a spark plug, where it goes, and how it makes the car run.”
She began holding these workshops when she lived in Halifax, and got an overwhelming response, so hosted six more in Halifax. She’s held two since moving to Ottawa two years ago.
“Knowledge is power. That’s how I got where I am. And if women want to learn, why isn’t anyone teaching them?”
King’s journey to becoming a mechanic was by no means a straight path. Her ‘car calling’ didn’t come until she was 26. Before then, she worked with the Elizabeth Fry Society, helping women in conflict with the law. It was interesting, but mentally draining.
“I took everyone home with me — not physically, but mentally. Although a couple of them wanted to come home with me!” she joked.
The catalyst for her career change came when she took an aptitude test, to help discover the best job for her.
“I scored 99.9 % in the mechanical field and 48 % in social work. So I applied to Mechanic School at the Nova Scotia Community College and got a full scholarship to go.”
Her test results corresponded with the mechanical tendencies she has always had.
She went back to school at 26, getting her high school diploma through an adult program, and then attending Mechanic School at a Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC). If King had the opportunity to explore the trades in high school, she believes she would have stayed in high school until she graduated.
“There is a shortage of workers in the trades in general, and especially women.” King said.
King is a minority in her field; for example, all of her co-workers are men. King started the program at the NSCC with four other women. Only two, herself and another woman, graduated (but in the top three of the class, she adds). King has been fortunate in her workplaces, free of discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.
“I haven’t had any difficulties [with discrimination] at work. The places I’ve worked have been open and accepting. I’m one of the guys for sure. And being a lesbian helps — you don’t get hit on!”
A self-described tomboy, King remembers being young and helping her uncle (also a mechanic) in the garage with her male cousins.
“We would be his little gophers, getting him tools.”
One way to encourage people to enter the trades is to expose them when they’re young. King was a role model for Techsploration, a program in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, designed to give junior high school students a glimpse into the working world. Nine young women job shadowed King for a day, to see a day in the life of King the mechanic.
“I was funny because the girl all dressed in white was the most intent on changing the tires. The gothic girl was the most afraid to get dirty!”
King is still in contact with some of these girls, and predicted that the unassuming white-clad girl was a would-be tradesperson.
King loves the variety she gets with her job and the challenges it presents.
“My job is so broad. I don’t know what I’m going to get from day to day. It can range from an oil change to a head gasket, and it’s a combination of physical and mental. I get to work with my hands and problem solve at the same time. And you have to be right on — or you hurt yourself!”