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.