Women in the Building Trades: Emily Van Heukelom LK ’11

December 9, 2019
Amanda Gray

Like many of the women interviewed for the Women in Building Trades series, Emily Van Heukelom LK ’11 also made a major career shift when she enrolled in the nine-month Locksmithing & Security Technology (LK) program at NBSS.

After graduating from an apprenticeship program with the Iron Workers Union in Boston, Emily was looking for a career that would combine her interest in hands-on work and a sense of financial security.

Locksmithing as a service industry spans a wide variety of fields, from project teams installing security systems in large-scale commercial or industrial buildings, to the unsung heroes that arrive in the middle of the night after you’ve locked yourself out of your house. Emily has found the perfect place for her in the mix: working 9-5 in a shop just outside of Boston.

“My job entails taking care of everything from connecting with people off the street looking to buy some hardware or rekey a lock, to urgent emergencies like the time someone called in a panic because their baby was locked in the bathroom.”

“I feel like a lot of people, no matter their gender, could be locksmiths but don’t realize the opportunity – such as single parents, or those who don’t want to enroll in a traditional four-year college degree.”

Unlike the quick response needed for that job, Emily had something of a wandering path before arriving at NBSS. She was homeschooled as a child, and then went on to take college art classes as a young adult. Afraid that trying to make a living as an artist would take the joy out of creating, Emily looked for a more practical, hands-on career.

“Before NBSS, I took some welding courses and then joined the Iron Workers,” she shares. “For me, it was a great way to gain confidence. I liked my coworkers and also my union was one where you could go and solicit your own work. For my first job, I just walked onto a construction site in downtown Boston and asked if they needed an apprentice, which they did.”

Emily describes her time in the Ironworkers Union as positive, though at times some were skeptical about female members.

Yet finding work was becoming increasingly difficult, especially in the wake of the Recession. After learning about and visiting NBSS, Emily found it the perfect place to continue her education and cultivate her interest in metal-work. She enrolled in the Locksmithing & Security Technology program in 2010, and graduated one year later.

Emily cutting a key

The first company that she worked for provided a beautiful shop, and great bench space with access to top-of-the-line machines. “There was a guy there who really took me under his wing and showed me the ropes,” she shares.

Like many trades, locksmithing is still largely male-dominated, which came as something of a surprise to Emily. The majority of locksmiths she’s worked with have also tended to have been in the industry for a long time. Fortunately, there has been a concerted effort to make the trades more inclusive, and this also includes making trade schools and educational programs more accessible.

For her part, Emily tries to encourage both women and men alike to explore a career in the trades. “I feel like a lot of people, no matter their gender, could be locksmiths but don’t realize the opportunity—such as single parents, or those who don’t want to enroll in a traditional four-year college degree,” she says.

“There are so many directions in the field to take, most of which are very satisfying. And it’s certainly never boring—the challenge of sales, designing master key systems, and preparing high-security locks. That’s where my nerdy fun comes in.”

This story is part of a series on Women in the Building Trades. View the full series here.

Locksmithing & Security Technology Program