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, 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 Factors like outdated perceptions and a lack of exposure to skilled trades have curbed recruitment efforts.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

See the full CTV News: London article.

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

See the full Hamilton Spectator article.

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

Read the full Dan O’Reilly Daily Commercial News article.

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.

Jill of All Trades: Awareness, Experience and Opportunity

Conestoga has delivered a Jill of All Trades event annually since 2014. The event welcomes a group of more than 225 young women and another 225 guests made up of Conestoga faculty and students, apprentices, graduates and industry mentors as well as local school board representatives and teachers, partners, local sponsors and government representatives, to Conestoga’s trades campus to participate in a day-long event designed to introduce young women to the tremendous potential of careers in the skilled trades.

This hands-on experience for young women in grades 9-12 helps them better understand the transition to prospective careers in the trades so they can determine their secondary school course selection for future post-secondary education. Jill of All Trades encourages young women to consider the opportunities and benefits of a future in skilled trades and apprenticeships primarily in Red Seal* trades.

*The Red Seal, when affixed to a provincial or territorial trade certificate, indicates that a tradesperson has demonstrated the knowledge required for the national standard in that trade. The Red Seal endorsement promotes excellence to employers, instills pride in skilled workers, and facilitates labour mobility. Red Seal trades.

The event provides a safe and engaging learning environment, where female mentors and faculty engage participants in a unique “try a trade” opportunity. Young women are selected by their high school to participate and receive one-on-one female apprentice mentorship at the college while being exposed to several skilled trades including the motive power, manufacturing, and construction sectors.

NAIT hosts nearly 100 high school students for a day of skilled trades exploration

NAIT welcomed nearly 100 female high school students to Main Campus on Thursday, Nov. 24 for a day of exploring the potential of careers in the skilled trades.

Jill of All Trades is an annual event that began in 2014 at Conestoga College in Ontario. Conestoga recently received support from national sponsors Owens Corning and Home Depot to bring it to a variety of post-secondary institutes across Canada and NAIT is pleased to be part of the first group.

Young women in grades 10 to 12 from Edmonton and Northern Alberta attended NAIT’s inaugural event. Attendees participated in up to 3 hands-on workshops to experience trades of interest. The workshops also connected the high school students with mentors—many of whom are female—who helped the students develop a better understanding of the benefits of a career in the skilled trades. Mentors included NAIT staff, alumni and members of industry.

The day kicked off with several guest speakers before the students broke out into the workshops offered by NAIT’s School of Skilled Trades. Workshops included Plumber, Electrician, Welder, Millwork (Cabinetmaking) and Carpentry, Heavy Equipment Technician, Auto Body Technician, Machinist/Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Technician, Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning Refrigeration (HVACR) Technician, Ironworker, Carpenter, Insulator and Glazier.

A recent report by RBC indicates more than 700,000 skilled trade workers are set to retire, creating a shortfall of at least 10,000 workers. The report goes on to say that women continue to represent less than four percent of workers in the most in-demand trades. Jill of All Trades aims to help decrease the skilled trades shortfall by encouraging more women to pursue careers in the trades.

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Jill of All Trades at Centennial College

The Centennial College Jill of All Trades event is a special event dedicated to helping young women explore skilled trades as careers. The 2022 event saw 100 young women, in grades 7-12, come out to our Ashtonbee Campus to get hands-on experience with programs from our School of Transportation and School of Engineering Technology and Applied Science. They rolled up their sleeves, explored the facilities, applications, and equipment that Centennial students use to hone their skills while they learn. In this video, we speak to the team behind the event, and more importantly, talk to some of the students who took part.

Jill of All Trades introduces young women to skilled trades careers

Close to 240 young women in Grades 9 through 12 participated in Conestoga’s Jill of All Trades event on October 26, 2022 at the college’s Cambridge – Fountain Street campus. The event introduced young women to the opportunities of skilled trades careers.

Delivered through the School College Work Initiative and the college’s School of Trades & Apprenticeship, the event is designed to help girls better understand the potential of skilled trades careers. This year’s participants joined from 35 schools in 10 boards across southwestern Ontario. The event was supported by more than 260 volunteers, including industry partners, faculty and graduates. Students participated in a selection of 15 hands-on workshops led by mentors, including framing and insulation, welding, robotics, heavy equipment operator, and food processing.

“When I was your age, and before I was your age and after I was your age, there was no such thing as Jill of All Trades,” said Blue-Collar CEO Mandy Rennehan (Bear) to the girls in her keynote address. “This industry is full of so many opportunities and in between every single person in this room you are going to see a person that is your mentor.”

Founder of multi-million-dollar retail maintenance and construction company, Rennehan is a sought-after speaker, philanthropist, award-winning entrepreneur and trade-industry ambassador. She is a lead advisor in the federal government’s national campaign to encourage apprenticeships and promote the skilled trades, and has received numerous business awards, including Canada’s Most Admired CEO, the Toronto Region Board of Trade Business Leader of the Year Award, the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Momentum Award and a Top 25 Women of Influence Award, and is a five-time winner of Canada’s Most Powerful Women Top 100 Award from the Women’s Executive Network. Bear is the host, designer and contractor for HGTV’s renovation show, Trading Up with Mandy Rennehan.

“You’re in a position right now to be the next role models of not only the trade industry, but you will be the next role models on how women show the world how they treat other people,” Rennehan continued. “And with that type of leadership, things will continue to grow, just like they did for me.”

A growing skills gap has emerged as the demand to keep pace with population growth and changing workforce demographics increases. Reports indicate more than 700,000 skilled tradespeople are set to retire by 2028. Canada needs more than 167,000 new apprentices alone to keep pace. According to Statistics Canada, women account for roughly four per cent of workers in under-represented skilled trades occupations.

About Jill of All Trades Conestoga College

Conestoga is a leader in skilled trades training for women. Through gender-specific programming and mentoring opportunities, the college assists and encourages women to pursue careers in under-represented and non-traditional occupations. In addition to Jill of All Trades, the college offers the Women in Skilled Trades (WIST) certificate program, supporting women to prepare for careers within the construction sector as general carpenters with the basic skills required to secure a position as an apprentice.

In 2021, Conestoga received support from Owens Corning Foundation to expand the delivery of Jill of All Trades to more locations. The program is expected to deliver 123 events across North America over the next four years, including six this year at post-secondary institutions in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

Conestoga is a provincial leader in the delivery of trades and apprenticeship training to serve industry needs and growing communities. Comprehensive programming includes a wide range of programs that provide pathways to employment in skilled trades careers as well as pre-apprenticeship training and in-school training for apprentices. Visit the School of Trades & Apprenticeship for more information.

National Sponsorship – Jill of All Trades

Jill of All Trades 2022 is nationally sponsored by Owens Corning Foundation and Home Depot.

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RBC commits $3.5 million for programming at Waterloo Region universities, college

WATERLOO — The RBC Foundation has committed $3.5 million over the next five years to support students and future programming at the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College.

The collaboration is part of RBC Future Launch’s 10-year, $500 million commitment to helping Canadian youth prepare for the jobs of tomorrow. Graduates from these programs will have the capabilities to contribute to Canada’s skills revolution and be among the next generation of leaders in sustainability and the skilled trades industries.

The donation, announced Tuesday at the Perimeter Institute, will include $2 million to the University of Waterloo to help launch its new interdisciplinary degree program; the Bachelor of Sustainability and Finance Management.

RBC Foundation’s $650,0000 donation to Conestoga College will support the expansion of the Jill of All Trades program — a series of hands-on workshop events designed to introduce young women in Grades 9-12 to the potential of careers in the skilled trades such as automotive service, carpentry, masonry, welding, and electrical trades.

Wilfrid Laurier University will receive $850,000 to help fund research, teaching and experiential learning opportunities in the area of climate change management, to help prepare students for emerging careers in the ever-evolving climate industry.

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