How RBC helps foster more young women to enter the skilled trades
Skilled tradespeople have always played a crucial role in Canada’s economy and are the backbone of modern society. Everything we rely on to live, work and play involves trades. However, recruitment has become a major challenge facing industries, with fewer young Canadians entering trade professions — an accelerating (and worrying) trend. In the next five years, Canada will need more than 167,000 new apprentices to keep up with demand from businesses and consumers.
“Right now, it’s nothing but the second coming of a ‘labour pandemic.’ Honestly, this labour pandemic has been here for at least 15 or 20 years,” says Mandy Rennehan, founder and CEO of Freshco.ca, HGTV host, keynote speaker and author.
Known as “the Blue Collar CEO,” Rennehan is one of many on a crusade to get more women into the skilled trades. “There are over 300 trades out there, but there are fewer and fewer people to deal with. Now you’ve got people saying things like, ‘My God, I was going to renovate but can’t because no one is available.’”
And when there are fewer tradespeople, consumers pay the price.
“It’s supply and demand,” she says, “And the skilled trade industry is no different. People are being given astronomical pricing because they can.”
Experiencing trade professions
Historically, attempts to attract young women to the field have fallen short. Factors like outdated perceptions and a lack of exposure to skilled trades have curbed recruitment efforts. According to RBC’s Powering Up: Preparing Canada’s skilled trades for a post-pandemic economy, in 2019, only 11 per cent of new apprenticeship program registrants were women. Unless Canada can get more women into trade and leadership positions, there will continue to be a stigma and hurdles to jump for women entering — and staying— in the trades. While these are substantial challenges, there are also significant opportunities.
RBC is the national sponsor for Jill of All Trades, an organization helping introduce young women in grades 9-12 to the benefits of trade careers. Program participants choose between three workshops in different sectors: industrial, construction and motive power.
“So, for example, for motive power, it could be operating a piece of heavy equipment like an excavator,” says Rosanne Hessian, Director, Jill of All Trades and Chair, School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Conestoga College. “They actually get to drive one of those big machines and use the bucket, pick up a ball, put it in a garbage can and then take the ball out of the garbage can. You should see their smiles while they are maneuvering this massive excavator. They even ask for more time to work with it.”
Throughout the program, students are supported by mentors. “It’s not only connecting the girls to the community, but helping build a pathway through opportunities. Mentors are key to safety and instruction, but also to help understand career paths. We have everyone from apprentices and trade educators to high school Co-op teachers, and local companies that need skilled tradespeople,” says Hessian.
“It’s like an exhibition of the skilled trade industry. The reality is that this type of program shows progress in promoting trade jobs overall.”
Strengthening the skilled trades talent pipeline
With RBC and other corporate funding, between 2022 and 2026 more than 120 Jill of All Trade events will take place across Canada and the US, reaching more than 25,000 young women.
“RBC’s partnership is helping us advance our digital media to reach more young women, our translation services like French and Spanish, and our data,” said Hessian.
In addition to Jill of All Trades, RBC recently announced our support of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum’s National Leadership Program for Women in the Skilled Trades. The program provides women and gender-diverse individuals with leadership training that includes courses on communication, conflict resolution and supervising/mentoring.
“RBC’s support will help the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum continue to educate, motivate and inspire tradeswomen and others underrepresented in the skilled trades,” says France Daviault, CEO.
Building more opportunities for young women
Rennehan believes hands-on programs can make a huge difference. “If Jill of All Trades had been around when I was in high school, we would not be in the mess we are in today. It’s just that simple.”
“Creating something like this is so important because it builds safety, it builds trust and builds them a runway. What we’re talking about is giving people opportunity. And that’s what Jill of All Trades is.”
“It’s giving people options. It’s letting them realize that trade jobs aren’t a second-class opportunity,” Rennehan says. “Blue collar isn’t second-class, and I want the young gals to see what success can look like and what it can feel like. I was a ‘pilot project’ that really went right, you know? I didn’t have that kind of beacon — seeing that successful person from a trade background, so that’s probably my number one reason for being part of this program on this level.”