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.”