Elyse Chiu: Women in Drywall

Elyse Chiu had a unique path into the drywall trade, to say the least: Elyse was a paramedic in Toronto for 14 years before she ever picked up a taping knife. Her interest in drywall finishing began around seven years ago, while still working in paramedicine, when she and her wife bought a home to renovate and rent out. Before this, she says, she had little awareness of how much skill it takes to finish drywall.

“We had a room in our basement that was being drywalled and finished for us by someone else and that we had hired, but we were trying these other little things,” Elyse told us. “We had this guy come in, and we were having a hard time trying to get the drywall to look nice and be smooth and finished. We asked him just to come up and help give us some tips. I stood there and I watched and I was just like, in awe of him. He was a master at his craft. He'd take the trowel and it was done, and I was like, ‘Oh my God. I've spent five hours trying to make it look flat like you did in two seconds.’ That's when I really discovered that drywall taping was an art.”

Women in Drywall: Elyse Chiu | 'I love seeing nothing become something'
Women in Drywall: Elyse Chiu | 'I love seeing nothing become something'

Elyse started watching countless videos of people finishing drywall on Instagram, and soon enough, she says, she became “obsessed with it.” She left Toronto and her job in paramedicine in 2019, relocating to the east coast of Canada, just outside of Moncton, New Brunswick. She continued doing renovations and teaching herself drywall finishing tricks here and there along the way, but when the pandemic hit, she came to a crossroads in her career. That’s when she found an apprenticeship in taping through a local company, and then began mentoring under a seasoned drywall finishing pro who taught her everything he knows. These days, she’s been working as a taper for just over two years, working on everything from multifamily to commercial construction.

The move from paramedicine to taping was a major change for Elyse in more ways than one, but there were skillsets she says carried over between the jobs — patience was a big one, as well as a certain amount of creativity.

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“They're different, and they're similar,” Elyse said. “The paramedic career was hands-on, but much more involved with other people. This has much more solitude, on your own just trying to compete with yourself and the wall … For both, you have to be creative, and creative in different ways, but you need to have a sense of creativity, and artistry, really.

“As a paramedic, you would definitely get the sense of satisfaction of helping people. Then, with the drywall finishing, I get the sense of satisfaction once I'm finished in the apartment building or apartment, or a house or whatever I'm working on — it's like, ‘Oh, wow, that was nothing, and now it's this wall that is finished, and it looks flat.’”

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Women in Drywall: ‘Just know who you are — know that you can do it’

Social media was Elyse’s first major onramp into the trades, and has continued to be a major source of inspiration and encouragement from an entire community of fellow women in drywall, like Lydia Crowder and Kristi Slade. And as a huge portion of our skilled finishers are reaching retirement age, Elyse says social media can be a powerful tool for showing more young people — including, or especially, women — what’s possible in the trades.

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“For me, Instagram was basically the catalyst that propelled me into the drywall obsession world that I have,” Elyse said. “I think Instagram has a big role in encouraging people into the trades because there are a lot of trades that I didn't even know existed, like drywall finishing, for example. I think it's a great tool to have for people who are interested to reach out to others who are already in those trades, to learn more information, to learn about the trades and what's involved in them, to see what the trades are really like and if it's something they might be interested in.

“I think if in high school I had been told about drywall taping, it definitely would've been something I might've been interested in or had in the back of my mind that it might be something I might want to try. I do think Instagram does have a big role to play as exposure for any trade — especially to see women in trades … The internet has allowed you to have a bigger community of other people to see as role models and to just shoot ideas off with and stuff. I think that's really, really great for women in a male-dominated industry, just to see those support systems. Just as a whole, for an industry that is so small, a community that's small.”

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Of course, nothing arrives without its special sets of challenges, particularly when it comes to being a woman in such a predominantly male space. Elyse finds these challenges can typically be conquered by a sense of self-confidence, and by reminding yourself of what it is you love about your craft in the first place.

“I find that being a woman in a male dominant industry, you have to be confident in yourself,” Elyse says. “Just know who you are — know that you can do it as well as anyone else. You might have to modify things a little bit because your hands are smaller, or you're not as tall, but you can do it just as good or better than the guys … I love seeing nothing become something and knowing that I did that, and just taking pride in that work and that craftsmanship and taking pride in the job that I've done. That's what I love.”

Women in Drywall

Women in Drywall

Meet the women changing the face of an industry.