It all began as an electrical helper after high school
Mettler-Toledo’s Carla Cheung’s after-school job as an electrical helper would lead her to one of the top positions in the Canadian manufacturing landscape.
Carla Cheung is the Technical Product Manager at Mettler-Toledo Canada, a role that demands versatility on a variety of subjects, and a role she was seemingly destined to do.
“My role at Mettler Toledo is multi-faceted. We are currently a small team that is growing rapidly as we gain more recognition in the market,” says Cheung. “Because of this we are all required to be very versatile and take on different responsibilities.”
Some of Cheung’s responsibilities include technical and application support for their product line; product management ensuring they are certified approved and priced for use in the Canadian market; training and education for their direct sales channel, channel partners and customers; start up and commissioning support; and onsite technical and product support for customers and end users.
But like every successful person, her journey in the process manufacturing sector had its start with humble beginnings.
“I first became interested in trades while working as an electrical helper for a small company after high school,” remembers Cheung. “At that time, I was unsure about what I wanted to pursue post-secondary.”
It was while working there that she was introduced to various tools and equipment.
“I learned some great skills and found that I gravitate very naturally to hands-on work. From there, I moved on to work in light industry as a machine operator and began to learn about manufacturing,” she says. “I had not previously been exposed to this industry and was immediately drawn to it.”
While looking through a number of potential post-secondary options, Cheung came across the electrical and instrumentation programs offered at Mohawk College.
“As I had limited exposure to trades and manufacturing, I was unsure if this was a program that I could succeed in. I decided to take a chance anyway and pursue this path.”
She eventually graduated as an instrumentation tech and completed her industrial electrical apprenticeship with Arcelor Mittal Dofasco.
“My career path since has always found me in manufacturing of some kind,” says Cheung. “From sales, technical, application, hands-on support and more recently, education. It is a very immense industry that is always changing with the advancements of technology.
Inspiring her to push forward in this field was her first electrical teacher, Kathy Usik.
“She is my biggest role model,” says Cheung. “She is an electrical engineer and educator. I kept her as my inspiration to continue on my path to education even during the challenging moments. I hope that I provide similar inspiration- or at the very least, education to others.”
While the numbers of women in the industry are few, Cheung prides herself on the accomplishments she has made, right alongside her male counterparts – refusing to allow gender to be a part of the equation, but acknowledging there are differences.
“I am not a big fan of separating challenges based on gender. I will say however that the limitation I found at times was my physical strength compared to my male counterparts,” admits Cheung. “When I first started in trades, I was determined to prove myself and not ask for help with any physical task. After injuring myself multiple times, I quickly realized how short-sighted this was.
“Men and women come in all shapes and sizes. There are males who will ask for physical assistance when needed without this being a slight against them,” she continues. “In fact, it is frowned upon not to do so within certain organizations. Women in skilled trades should feel exactly the same. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, there is no need to struggle physically to try to prove yourself.
“Another challenge would be finding a bathroom nearby!” she laughs.
While men and women each have their strengths and weaknesses, Cheung says that her male coworkers have noticed something about women that do give them an edge.
“I have been told in the past by my journeymen that women tend to have a better attention to detail,” she says. “This attention can be a great asset in skilled trades and manufacturing.”
Building on the advice and mentoring from her first electrical teacher, there is one thing that have helped Cheung grow her career over the years.
“The one thing that has helped me is an overall attitude of tenacity and desire to always finish what I start,” she says. “I have known friends, family, colleagues begin a journey or path only to stop once they realize that may not be for them. I believe you can always learn something from seeing things through to the end, even if the outcome does not align with the original goal or expectation.”
Cheung has participated in a number of skilled trade initiatives, looking to share her knowledge and skill with others looking to enter the workforce.
“I do hope they were valuable for the participants!” she smiles. “I believe these skilled trade initiatives are very important. There is not enough information on the opportunities for young people in the area of skilled trades. There should be a stronger focus on this at the secondary level and these initiatives are beneficial to closing this gap.
Mental health has taken on new importance with COVID, both for male and female, and it is top-of-mind for those at her company, Mettler-Toledo Canada.
“I think COVID has the whole team at Mettler Toledo appreciating one another in a different way. We have all become familiar with each other’s home offices, including basements and kitchen tables,” she says. “We have watched each other’s families unintentionally interrupt meetings, been drowned out by a barking dog or dealt with the distraction of the ringing doorbell of another Amazon order. It is a very different experience to meet your manager dressed business casual in a boardroom-compared to meeting virtually in a t-shirt from your living room. I believe COVID has humanized us so to speak, and allowed us to see each other as more than MT (Mettler-Toledo) colleagues.”
Encouraging more women to enter the manufacturing sector is always a challenge, and one way to overcome this hurdle is to raise the visibility of the industry, says Cheung.
“I truly believe there needs to be more visibility at the secondary school level to encourage females, and youth in general, to pursue these opportunities,” she says. “However, the following site is a great resource for more information Canada wide: https://www.careersinconstruction.ca.”
Looking back over her career, Cheung has seen the manufacturing landscape change considerably since she arrived with an engineering degree in hand.
“Technology has been imperative to this change. We have moved and are still moving away from the idea that skilled trades and manufacturing is physically challenging and therefore male dominated,” she says. “Manufacturing systems are now heavily computer-controlled with a high level of technological expertise required in order to maintain and troubleshoot them. There will always be a physical aspect associated with the operation and maintenance of any manufacturing system, but this is no longer the key focus.”
Many of us have a “would have, could have” moment to reflect on what we could have changed in our lives with a “do over.” For Cheung, it would be to go back in time and have a coffee with her 20-year-old self to offer a few words of encouragement.
“Stop doubting yourself. Stop second-guessing. You know a lot more than you think – and you are a lot more competent then you feel,” she says. “Also, learn to listen! I think this is advice we would give to all of our 20-year old selves. There is so much to be gained from practicing active listening. Simply not listening with the intention of responding. It is amazing what you can learn from people by just listening.”
That isn’t to say that Cheung isn’t pleased with how life has worked out, and can take pride in her accomplishments and where she is now.
“My greatest accomplishment is my role at Mettler Toledo. And no – I am not obligated to say that,” she says. “As an industrial electrician, instrumentation technician and technological educator I have looked for a role within an organization that would allow me to pull from all of these skill sets. My position at MT does just that. It also allows me to continue learning, improve my skills and expand my knowledge. It took me quite some time to find a position that allows for this and through patience and open mindedness, I have. Working for a fantastic organization is an added bonus.”