Single mom swaps desk for mechanic’s wrench

Robin Levinson
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Arlene Michelin fixing a car. — Submitted photo

A year ago Arlene Michelin decided to go from girly girl to grease monkey and she hasn’t looked back.

After working for the federal government for six years, Michelin was laid off.

The single mother of two girls, Michelin had always provided for her family.

Looking out her window at her broken car one day, she thought, That’s the only thing I can’t do for myself, fix my car.

She started hanging around garages and picking up tricks of the trade.

Although she spent years behind a desk, she realized she would love fixing something with her hands for a living.

But before she sunk her money and her time into a mechanics diploma, she volunteered at the garage owned by her ex-husband’s family.

She fell in love with the trade and got accepted to College of the North Atlantic for car mechanics in September 2011.

“Every vehicle that you get is something different, so you never do the same thing every day,” Michelin says.

While in school, Michelin commuted an hour each day to the Corner Brook campus. Eventually she transferred to Happy Valley-Goose Bay to be closer to her family in Labrador City.

Michelin’s decision to become a car mechanic shocked her children and family.

“I could never be bothered with anything, I didn’t even know how to change the tire,” she says.

She’s been working full-time at a garage for a month and now a cool car turns her head.

“It was a big deal I had a Camaro in yesterday,” she says.

Her daughters haven’t picked up her interest in cars, but she says her oldest, 15, wants to go into a trade as well.

Although the trades have traditionally been filled by men, Michelin says they are welcoming to women.

She received grants to go to school, and there were other women in her program.

Michelin says people don’t think twice anymore about seeing a woman poke around under their car hood.

“People are more adapted to it and more accepting,” she says.

More importantly, Michelin says the lucrative demand for trades  professionals is reason enough for women to get their hands dirty.

“The work is there,” she says.

By day she may be covered in grease, but Michelin says she turns back into a girly girl at night.

After a long day in work boots, Michelin likes to have her hair and makeup done and a nice outfit on.

“It’s the high heels, whenever I can get them on my feet,” she says.

Even when she’s changing a car’s oil, her nails are done.

“You know what, I can always redo them. They’re no big deal,” she says.

Michelin even has pink tools and pink work boots to help her feel stylish at work.

While shopping the other day, she noticed that purple tools are now available.

 “I got my eye on them,” she says.

Organizations: College of the North Atlantic

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Happy Valley, Goose Bay Labrador City.Michelin

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Recent comments

  • MallRat
    July 28, 2012 - 17:37

    Great Story! Have to say, you are not only a role model for women province wide but you are also an inspiration for others to get off their asses and make GOOD with their lives when life becomes unkind! Good on you Arlene!

  • Dominic Dickmann
    July 28, 2012 - 15:35

    congratulations Arlene,

  • carogers
    July 28, 2012 - 09:22

    You are a role model for your two girls. The trades are where a person can make a living wage. Get your daughter into a Trades Orientation program in a few years. I was on a site last week where four female electrition apprentices were wiring a house. Not a head turned everyone just did their job. There are quite a few women working in trades no one should be surprized to see a female working under a car or wearing a hard hat, Most engineering classes have quite a few females, OHSE programs have more women than men. This reimds me of the joke about the boy in an accident when he arrives at the hospital the doc was not allowed to operate because it was the Doctors son, today that riddle is easy to answer the Doc is his Mom. Fifty years ago you might stump somone with that one. Times have changed but attitudes are slower here in NL when a women working as a mechanic makes the news.

  • SR
    July 28, 2012 - 08:03

    Good for you