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. 

Jill of All Trades introduces students to a different career path

See the full Calgary CTV News article.

More than 150 female grade 8 and 9 students were at SAIT Wednesday to learn about a life in skilled trades.

The second annual Jill of All Trades afternoon was aimed at teaching and inspiring young women who may not know what career path they want to take.

The afternoon offered hands-on activities and demonstrations for the students to try out — everything from welding and drone flying to wood-working and automotive repair.

“The girls got to choose three of the nine activities,” SAIT’s School of Construction Dean Dr. Reva Bond said. “They’re accompanied by up to six industry female mentors for the day as well. So it’s about doing the activities, having those conversations and really broadening people’s perspectives on what’s possible.”

Currently in Canada, Bond says most workforces in the trades have about five per cent women.

She hopes inspiring the next generation and focusing on retaining workers could fix that diversity problem.

“The more women we can bring in, the more balance we can achieve,” she said, “and we can make a safe environment for everyone to work in.”

This year, the Jill of All Trades event brought in students from five different school boards, including a school from Tsuut’ina Education.

“I love it,” grade 9 student Dana Albabo said. “There’s a bunch of fun things to do and explore.”

“It’s a fun experience,” Ajla Durakovic added. “In (the trades), it’s not just men. Women can get involved too.”

The event is hosted in other North American cities, including inside Edmonton’s NAIT.

Freshco: Why we need more women in Canada’s skilled trades

See the full RBC News article (English). For French.

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.”

CTV News: Fanshawe mentorship program for women in trades

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Fanshawe College is launching a mentorship program that aims to support women in their pursuit of a career in the skilled trades.

The school’s Corporate Training Solutions (CTS) is leading the development of the “ConnectHER’ mentorship project that will recruit and support 1,000 women, women-identifying and non-binary people from across the country to pursue a career in carpentry, welding, plumbing and heavy equipment operator.

“As a leading provider of skilled trades and apprenticeship training in the Ontario college system, Fanshawe is well-positioned to bring key players to the table to address the well-known gender gap in the skilled trades,” says Candace Miller, Fanshawe’s executive director of Business Development and Strategic Support. “We’re excited to develop a mentorship project designed by females to unlock the potential of women in the trades.”

According to Statistics Canada, in 2022 only seven per cent of skilled trades’ workers in Canada identified as women.

The female-led mentorship project is funded by the Canadian government’s Canadian Apprenticeship Strategy and carried out in partnership with Polytechnics Canada, to engage 1,000 prospective or existing tradeswomen in a supportive one-on-one learning relationship with a mentor who can share their knowledge and experience.

ConnectHER will involve five phases that will be implemented until May 2026. The phases will be informed by both employers and unions. These groups will meet this fall to discuss challenges, look for ways to overcome barriers and explore new ideas to help create a welcoming space on the work site.

The project will be delivered as of June 2024.

Jill of All Trades fair offers female students a different job path

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Kendall Cover says she doesn’t yet know if she wants to pursue a career in the trades, although she is taking a woodworking course next year because she enjoys working with her hands.

But the Grade 11 student at Caledonia’s McKinnon Park Secondary School said she liked the chance to explore the possibility a bit further at a “Jill of All Trades” fair at Mohawk College’s Stoney Creek campus.

Targeting female and female-identifying students, the Oct. 12 fair allowed 108 participants from area high schools to learn more about the trades and take three of a possible 12 workshops providing a taste of potential career paths.

Among Cover’s choices was one on becoming a sheet metal worker, where she made a small aluminum box and met young women working in the field for KF Aerospace at John C. Munro International Airport.

“They were, like, ‘out of 300 workers on the floor, there’s seven girls,’ so it’s a little crazy,” she said. “But it’s definitely more of an option than it was 10, 20 years ago.”

Schoolmate Adalyn Vanderberg laughed as she admitted she didn’t know there were so many different trades, having previously thought, “you just go in to the trades.”

Also in Grade 11, she said she is one of the few girls in her school’s technological design course, which teaches computer tasks like creating blueprints, but also isn’t sure about pursuing a trade.

“I love hands-on work, but I feel I want to be out in the world travelling or something like that,” said Vanderberg, who also took the sheet metal workshop. “But it’s really cool that we got to come here and do all this.”

Kathleen McCarthy, who spoke to students at the workshop and is apprenticing as an aircraft structural maintenance technician at KF Aerospace, said afterwards she was drawn to her trade after being a cadet and taking a related summer course.

She studied both aircraft maintenance — which deals with engines and moving parts — and aircraft structures at North Bay’s Canadore College before choosing the latter, which focuses on “the skins and the structures that hold everything up.”

The 27-year-old Brantford native said she believes more women and men are realizing trades are a good career path because they don’t require the financial outlay of university and other college programs.

“It’s a really good option for anyone who likes working hands-on jobs and isn’t necessarily looking to work in an office their whole life,” she said.

Samara Young, an associate dean at Mohawk’s Marshall School of Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship, said Conestoga College started the annual fair in 2014 and this year’s event featured 27 industry employers offering mentors and some keynote speakers.

Among the goals is to dispel common myths, like that pursuing a trade is somehow lesser than seeking a university degree, she said.

“A lot of people work from these assumptions that it’s dirty, that you’re not smart if you come into the skilled trades. I have faculty who work for me who are some of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” Young said.

“We do want people who are creative, who are good at math and like to troubleshoot; those are really important skills,” she said. “There’s tremendous opportunity and people want to see women in these roles.”

Jill of All Trades program gains momentum across North America

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Two hundred and seventy female high school students received a hands-on introduction into the possibilities of the skilled construction, industrial and automotive trades at the brand new Conestoga Skilled Trades Campus in Cambridge, Ont. recently.

At the annual Jill of All Trades event on May 31, some of those students operated heavy equipment machinery, while others welded piping, installed drywall, repaired masonry or tried their hand at woodworking.

“It wasn’t, and never is, a case of the students simply listening to an instructor,” says the college’s Jill of All Trades director Rosanne Hessian.

Launched and initiated by Conestoga in 2014 and trademarked a few years ago, Jill of All Trades is a day-long educational fair with workshops and guest speakers designed to introduce Grade 9 to 12 female students into the benefits of a future in skilled trades and apprenticeships, primarily in Red Seal trades.

Conducted in partnership with 12 school boards in the southwestern Ontario area, the event featured 18 different hands-on-workshops in the construction, industrial and motive power sectors.

In the months-long planning lead-up to the event, the school boards were sent descriptions of the workshops which the students reviewed and then ultimately pre-registered for three.

The workshops were conducted by college faculty members, with the assistance of apprentices, sponsor volunteers and community tradespeople, says Hessian.

Beginning the day was a short primer on safety, including providing the students with personal protection equipment. They were also given T-shirts in distinctive orange and blue colours, which are the logo colours of Jill of All Trades.

While Conestoga hosted the event, set the agenda, lined up the instructors and resource personnel, the participating school boards selected which students got to participate. There is always a wait list, which means there is more student demand than the college can accommodate.

Counting the students, faculty members, apprentice mentors, business employee staffing booths and volunteers, there were probably 500 people in attendance, she says.

The keynote speaker was HGTV host Mandy Rennehan, also known as The Blue Collar CEO, and founder of Freshco, a full-service reconstruction and retail maintenance firm operating across Canada and the eastern U.S.

“We saw the need,” says Hessian, on why Conestoga launched Jill of All Trades in 2014.

In that first year 110 students took part and there were three workshops. Since then the program has expanded, gone national and may soon go international.

Through an active outreach initiative aimed at colleges offering skilled trades programs, six Jill of All Trades events were hosted across Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia in 2022.

By 2026, Jill of All Trades is expected to expand to 25 institutions across Canada, delivering more than 70 events specifically tailored to meet the employment needs of the geographic areas those colleges serve.

An example would be the extensive employment needs of the mining industry in northern Ontario, she says.

“We recognized that there was a need to promote women in skilled trades and to provide opportunities for young women to experience skilled trades. A network of community (college) partners will lead a movement that empowers young women to make informed career choices.”

Of course, all of those colleges were and are promoting skilled trades pathways for young women, but it was on an independent standalone basis.

“Jill of All Trades brings all of our communities together, across Canada. We’re all delivering the same message.”

Conestoga is also in the process of reaching out to community colleges in the U.S. and potential sponsors there are very interested in promoting women in skilled trades.

Jill of All Trades could not exist if it wasn’t for its network of North American, national, provincial and local sponsors, says Hessian.

Describing the May 31 event as “a fun and exciting day,” the college’s dean of trades and apprenticeship Suzanne Moyer, said it was also an opportunity to showcase the Skilled Trades Campus to the students who may be attending there in a few years.

Just opened last fall on Reuter Drive adjacent Highway 401, the first phase of the campus features a 29,914-square-metre building comprised of shops and labs.

“We expect to have 500 post-graduate students and 2,800 apprentices in the coming academic year.”

An official opening has been planned for Nov. 1, but details are still being hashed out, says Moyer.