I’ve known locksmith Vicki McCabe for several years and I enjoy helping with her locksmith needs. Recently she asked if I’d like to interview her because she had some things to say about being a woman and working in a field so dominated by men. Here’s our conversation.
How did you get started in locksmithing?
People always ask me that. My grandfather was a locksmith back in the 50s. I was always curious; I grew up working on cars with my father and I liked working with my hands. One night I was on the front porch talking to him and wondering out loud what I was going to do with my life at the age of 36. I noticed there was a correspondence course for locksmithing and he thought it was a good idea. At the same time there was an ad in the paper for a locksmith trainee. I interviewed and eventually was hired at Haddon Locksmith working for Jim Sundstrond. That was back in October of 1997.
Did your father dabble in locksmithing or did it skip a generation?
Yes, he dabbled. Actually my Uncle was a locksmith too so I’m third generation.
So even though you came from two generations of locksmiths, you were hired as an apprentice?
Yes, because I did not grow up around the locksmith trade. I grew up in South Jersey and my grandfather’s business was in Pennsylvania. My uncle’s business was in California.
Years ago I attended the NY School of Locksmithing and realized later that I could’ve learned in a few weeks in the field what it took six months to learn there. What was that contrast like for you; working in a shop and taking the course at the same time?
The course is all book work and without working in Jim’s shop I would’ve had a hard time without the actual hands on, real life situations. It worked out well and Jim always helped me with questions I had.
So working inside you learned what it was like to deal with customers?
Yes, that’s how I met you, Steve. Do you remember? You walked into the shop and I never saw you before and you asked about duplicating a key. You handed me a key blank and asked for two copies. I took it from you, looked at it and handed it back saying, 'I can’t do this, there are no cuts on the key.' You looked at me straight faced said ‘I know but I still need it duplicated.’ I said, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you.’
Unfortunately for the locksmith community, I do this kind of thing sometimes to initiate new people. How did you respond to this customer?
I ignored you. I went back to working on a lock and thought you were crazy, which come to find out isn’t too far from the truth. You introduced yourself, apologized and I’ve regretted it ever since.
How’d you like working with customers while learning the mechanical part of the business?
I enjoyed it because it allowed me to solve their problem while teaching me something in the process.
Do some people respond to you differently because you are a woman?
Yes, one of the things I get a lot of is that because I’m a woman it tends to shake their confidence that I can’t perform the work.
Do you think a man working in the field gets more credibility?
I hate to think so, but probably.
Were there segments of our trade that you enjoyed or were drawn to in the first couple of years?
I always enjoyed working on cars. I found it fascinating that you could originate keys for a car and most of the time didn’t have to take anything apart.
Do you enjoy being in the position to help someone?
I enjoy it very much and I enjoy the typical interaction with customers; I don’t just do the work and leave. I explain to them why the lock broke or why this isn’t working and they get a little education and appreciate it. When someone requests a new lock and all they really need is a rekey, that’s what I do. I’m not into selling people what they don’t need. I have good ethics and morals. I show up when I say I will and if I’m going to be late, I call them. You wouldn’t believe how often people tell me they appreciate me actually showing up. It’s a good feeling when my repeat customers call me and remind me of that fact.
How else has being a woman in a male dominated field affected the way you approach things?
My approach is to show up confident, as a professional in the field. It doesn’t matter that I am a woman. I am there to do a job that was requested of me although I don’t always get the same reaction when a call comes in.
Jared Urman, Access Locksmithing
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