Organizations working to encourage more women, girls into skilled trades

Skills Ontario to hold in-person International Day of the Girl Oct. 11 at Science North in Sudbury.

Several organizations in Sudbury are working to help encourage more women and young girls into skilled trades.

Across Canada, only about five per cent of skilled trades workers are women, according to Statistics Canada.

One of the organizations, Skills Ontario, partners with school boards, colleges, small businesses, large companies, labour groups, and governments to provide opportunities for young people to explore and develop skills for successful careers in the skilled trades and technologies.

For the first time since the pandemic began, Skills Ontario plans to hold its first in-person International Day of the Girl, planned for Oct. 11 at Science North in Sudbury. About 180 Grade 7 and 8 girls from the Sudbury area will learn about and explore job possibilities.

It includes the ‘For Girls, By Girls’ conference featuring keynote speaker Kendra Liinamaa of Sudbury, who is currently doing her apprenticeship to become a millwright. There will also be workshops that allow students to test out various trades.

Some students already have preconceived ideas about trades jobs, but this event works to change that, said Lindsay Chester, the program manager for Skills Ontario’s Young Women’s Initiatives.

“Change that stigma, change that mindset and give them an opportunity to try these different skilled trades careers and then in the end leave realizing that this is something that they are capable of doing, and then hopefully sparking enough of an interest that they continue to pursue that through high school and ultimately into a career down the road” she said.

Chester said it’s important for female students and young women first entering the trades to see visual representation of other workers like them.

“When we have the female tradeswomen, now the girls can kind of be like ‘Alright if she can do it I can do it,'” Chester said.

Cambrian College is holding a similar event at the end of this month called Jill of All Trades. Female high school students will be able to try out various trades and learn about viable career paths.

“What we try to do with this is just give them a taste of the skilled trades for a day,” said college spokesperson Dan Lessard.

Cambrian also has female instructors within its various trades programs — who become role models for the female students.

“Don’t let your perception of what you think girls can or can not do prevent you from exploring a really good career in the trades; that is going to be rewarding, is going to be challenging and quite frankly it’s going to pay you really good money,” Lessard said.

This year there are 294 female students enrolled in Cambrian’s Skilled Trades and Engineering Technology; ten more than in 2021.

Committee of tradeswomen advocating for women

In 2019, women in the industry formed the committee, Ontario Building and Construction Tradeswomen. They have more than 700 members, and advocate for the recruitment and retention of more women in the trades.

“We’ve got women from across the province, every trade, every region, every sector, we’ve got women all over the province. And we’ve got quite a lot of women up in Sudbury specifically,” said program director Kayla Bailey.

She has worked in the skilled trades for nine years as a journey-person, a steam-fitter, a welder and a gas-fitter in Toronto.

Kayla Bailey is a journeyperson, a steam-fitter, a welder and a gas-fitter in Toronto. She is also the program director for Ontario Building and Construction Tradeswomen. (Submitted by Kayla Bailey)

She said it was during a trip with her mother — who was in the trades herself — to a northern Ontario mine that changed her mind about pursuing a career in the trades.

“For me, it was life changing. I got to see the kinds of people that worked in the mine, the kinds of people that worked in the trades,” she said. “I saw a lot of people that were only a few years older than me, and they had good jobs, they had a good quality of life, they had nice cars and they had nice homes.”

Supporting fellow sisters

Bailey said prior to the formation of the Ontario Building and Construction Tradeswomen group, there was no provincial co-ordinated effort to to bring tradeswomen together.

“It also supports our fellow sisters in the trades, helping women find pathways and into registered apprenticeships and offering the soft skills training, the health and safety training and the experience, expertise needed to help women feel confident and to be successful in a male dominated industry,” Bailey said.

Bailey admits that one of the biggest barriers for women in the trades is confidence.

“It can be quite intimidating having your first job be in construction, but especially if you’re the only woman on site. We find a lot of women apprentices, they’re very nervous. They’re afraid to ask for help. They don’t want to cause a stir,” she said.

Bailey said it’s important for young women who are considering working in the trades to be encouraged by other women already in the field.

“Right now there’s such a huge labour shortage and it will not be filled by the traditional workforce that we’re seeing; It will not be filled by just white men,” Bailey said.

“So whether you’re a woman or you’re a racialized person or somebody else who doesn’t feel like you’re traditionally represented in the construction industry, you are what’s going to fill the construction industry workforce gap and there is a place for you.”

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