Published on May 14, 2021
Looking back, Samantha Richards (Plumber ’20) admits the road to creating a better life for herself and her family hasn’t been easy. One of the most difficult – and rewarding – decisions she ever made was taking the leap of faith to make a career change.
Richards, a single parent of a 17-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son, worked as an administrative assistant for an architectural and engineering firm for more than a decade. As the sole provider for her family, she worked hard but struggled to get ahead. That’s when she decided to pursue a trade. When she found an entry-level plumber job, she seized the opportunity.
“I have a belief that it's for each generation’s responsibility to take advantage of opportunities for education.”
“All I wanted was a good life for my kids,” says Richards. “If you want something better, you have to work for it. It's not just going to come handed to you.”
Being a strong role model to her kids and showing them the value of hard work and perseverance was additional motivation .
It’s a lesson she learned from her own mother, Joan, who took her own leap of faith when she and Richards, then eight years old, immigrated to Canada from Jamaica. Her mom held two jobs, including as a nursing aide. Seeing how hard her mom worked to support them inspired Richards to set a similar example for her own children. Those experiences also shaped her desire to pursue her dreams to further her education.
“She never got to finish school as she didn't have the opportunity,” says Richards. “I have a belief that it's for each generation’s responsibility to take advantage of opportunities for education.”
Now a residential service plumber, Richards reflects on times during her five-year educational journey when she never thought she’d achieve her dream. She credits her family – and support she’s received through scholarships – for helping her through some of those dark and most difficult days.
“They have been my biggest supporters," says Samantha Richards about her daughter Ebonée (left) and mother Joan, who both helped her through challenging times.
Scholarships provide “light at end of the tunnel”
With little experience in the trade, Richards hit the pavement in May 2014, acing the interview for an entry-level plumbing job. A few years later, she went to NAIT to get her red seal in plumbing. Throughout her studies, and despite the obstacles she encountered along the way, she says she never lost sight of her goals.
Returning to the classroom as a single parent, Richard initially struggled to balance caring for her young family (her son Liam was four at the time) and focusing on schoolwork. Thankfully, her mom was supportive however she was able and helped take care of the children. In later years of study, her daughter, Ebonée, was old enough to help take care of her younger brother. Not having a steady paycheque was another challenge. Richards remembers one particularly money-strapped time when she had to use employment insurance to sustain her through her second and third period of study.
“These scholarships let me continue on my path. With all my heart, thank you.
Just when things were particularly bleak and there was nowhere else to turn, Richards was selected for the Coca Cola and Unifor Women in Trades Apprenticeship Bursary. It was like a “light at the end of a tunnel,” she says. The scholarship helped cover the family’s day-to-day expenses, including putting food in the fridge and gas in the vehicle.
Later, while in the fourth period of her apprenticeship, she was selected for the MacPherson Women in Trades Award.
“These scholarships let me continue on my path,” she says, adding she’s grateful for the generosity of NAIT donors. “It's made my path a little bit easier and stay on track. With all my heart, thank you.”
An unwavering drive to reach goal, despite the barriers
Richards faced more than one barrier to attain her education. Nonetheless, she was determined to earn her red seal accreditation – even when her goal was put on hold in March 2020 due to the pandemic and the subsequent cancellation of in-person classes.
Finally, the day came the following October when Richards completed her fourth and final period and passed her test. Now that the red seal plumber has reached her goal, Richards looks back on her educational journey with feelings of pride and accomplishment.
“It's been a long road. Deciding to get into the trades and going to school is the best thing I’ve ever done for my family," says Samantha Richards (pictured left) with her son Liam and daughter Ebonée.
“It's been a long road,” she says. “Deciding to get into the trades and going to school is the best thing I’ve ever done for my family.”
If Richards could give advice to other single parents who want to make a career change but are afraid, she would unhesitatingly encourage them to go for it. “You might struggle, but in the end it is so worth it. Without struggle, there's no gain. Nothing worth it in life is easy,” she says.