Jill of All Trades encourages young women to pursue skilled trades

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Kenya Ismail was not the least bit intimidated by learning skills long viewed as male-dominated trades. So she didn’t hesitate when asked if she wanted to attend the first “Jill of All Trades” event in the U.S.

“I just really like the idea of it being empowering for women and all,” said Kenya, a student at Penta Career Center.

She has her eye on a career in physical therapy. “Now there’s a lot more women in it – which is cool.”

Kenya was one of nearly 60 girls, sophomores through seniors from Penta, who volunteered to spend the day at Owens Community College for the first Jill of All Trades program in the U.S.

Established in 2014 in Canada, Jill of All Trades has been providing hands-on experiences to young women in grades 9-12 to introduce them to the possibilities of a career in skilled trades including advanced manufacturing and transportation.

Rosie Hessian, director of the program that has crisscrossed Canada for a decade, said she was glad to finally bring the project across the border.

“We want to create a movement across North America that helps young women in skilled trade careers,” such as welding, robotics, electric, machining and framing, Hessian said.

The program’s goal is to introduce skilled trades to women, which will also help address the skilled trades workforce shortage.

“These trades have been historically male,” said Dr. Dione Somerville, president of Owens Community College. “This was a no-brainer to partner with them. We’re thrilled to be the first in the U.S. to host his program.”

And Penta Career Center was happy to supply young women looking for career paths.

“We’re very motivated to help girls get connected,” said Ryan Lee, director of career and technical education at Penta.

By introducing young women to non-traditional trades and apprenticeships, the program is intended to send a consistent message to young women, increase college enrollment in trades and apprenticeships, retain skilled trades workers, grow capacity and address gender diversity.

After hearing from some women who have climbed to the top in skilled trades, the students broke into smaller groups and got hands-on practice with various trades.

“It’s about the spirit of innovation,” Somerville told the students. “We’re very good at making things. It’s a trademark of this region.”

“The world of STEM careers is available to any of you if you choose to pursue it,” Somerville said, encouraging the girls to not be intimidated by being the first woman to do something. “Someone has to be in the role.”

Betty Jane Lowrie, of Buckeye Broadband, talked about being a journeyman laborer and working her way up.

“There are manufacturing jobs that are looking for every one of you,” she said. “In skilled trades, we can make a very good living – without all that college debt.”

Tracey Bolander, of Owens Corning, said her company has manufacturing plants all around the world in need of workers.

“I could use every one of you in those plants,” she said. 

Bolander posed a series of questions to the students.

“Who wants to go into an office everyday and sit in a cubicle?” “Who wants to make a lot of money?” “Who might want to be the boss?”

Many women excel in the trades, being able to multi-task and order people around, Bolander said. 

“The trades open up a whole new world,” she said.

Liz Higgins, also from Owens Corning, gave the girls career advice.

“Figure out what makes you happy – what you want to do,” she said. Make yourself more valuable by having multiple skills.

And most importantly, be curious, have courage and persevere.

“That drive to learn what you don’t know is very, very important,” Higgins said. “Have the  courage to try something new. When you’re uncomfortable, you’re growing. And have the perseverance to make sure you finish it.”

Among the sponsors attending the event were representatives from Buckeye Broadband, First Solar, Owens Corning, Advanced Technologies Consultants, Taylor Automotive Group, Barnes, First Energy, Magna, Enbridge, and Mechanical Contractors Association of Northwest Ohio.

First Jill of All Trades workshops held in the United States

Watch the WTOL 11 news story.

Locally, a collaboration between America’s Penta Career Center and Owens Community College. The girls attended workshops in different trades and learn from industry mentors. The goal is to address the needs of the future workforce and create opportunities.

Jill of all Trades events at NAIT, SAIT see 150 participants each

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Edmonton, Alberta ⁠— Alberta’s polytechnic schools each hosted a Jill of all Trades career exploration event in late November, where each welcomed more than 150 young women for a day of exploration and learning about careers in Canada’s skilled trades.

Attendees had the chance to learn more about career paths in manufacturing, fabrication, maintenance, construction, mechanical and electric installation, industrial automation and design and, of course, automotive and transportation. Mentors included faculty, alumni, members of the local industry and more.

“The girls got to choose three of the nine activities [offered],” said Dr. Reva Bond, Dean of the Southern Alberta Insitute of Technology (SAIT) School of Construction. “[The day] is about having conversations and broadening people’s perspectives on what is possible.”

Bond estimates that approximately five percent of Canada’s skilled trades workforce is female.

“The more women we can bring in, the more balance we can achieve⁠—and we can make a safe environment for everyone to work in,” Dr. Bond told CTV News Calgary.

Jill of all Trades is a day-long event to introduce female and female-identifying high school students to the prospect of a rewarding career in the skilled trades.

Future Jill of all Trades events include:

  •     Centennial College ⁠— Scarborough, Ontario ⁠— February 24, 2024
  •     Confederation College ⁠— Thunder Bay, Ontario ⁠— March 27, 2024
  •     British Columbia Institute of Technology ⁠— Burnaby, British Columbia ⁠— April 2024 (DATE TBD)
  •     Saskatchewan Polytechnic ⁠— Saskatoon, Saskatchewan ⁠— May 8, 2024
  •     Conestoga College ⁠— Cambridge, Ontario ⁠— May 29, 2024

Events were previously held at Mohawk College in Stoney Creek, Ont.; Algonquin College in Pembroke, Ont.; Fanshawe College in London, Ont.; Cambrian College in Sudbury, Ont.;

Red River College in Winnipeg, Man., and College of the North Atlantic in St. John’s, Nfld., are each scheduled to have a future Jill of all Trades event, though no date has been confirmed.