Young women in the skilled trades face many challenges and insecurity is one that can hold them back from pursuing a career in the sector altogether.
“I started when I was 16 in high school. Insecurities were everything then, so to try to overcome them was a big hurdle for me,” said Jennifer Green, director of competitions and young women’s initiatives at Skills Ontario, who is also an industrial mechanic millwright. “I was constantly worried about would I make it, worried about the stereotypes and how I would be viewed, worried about how I would compare to others.”
Skills Ontario recently held a live follow-up Q&A session with speakers from the Women in Skilled Trades and Technologies Conference to answer questions that were not addressed during the conference due to time constraints.
Although Green was not part of the original conference, she filled in for one of the speakers who was unable to attend. Green competed in the Skills Ontario competition in 2008 winning gold and silver in the national competition. She was the second woman to win at that level for that trade but when she was asked to represent Conestoga College at the Skills Ontario competition she said no.
“I was afraid I would fail and confirm what the stereotype has been all these years,” said Green. “Thankfully, it’s a really good thing that I listened to my teachers and everyone around me who told me, ‘We chose you for a reason. We feel that you can do it.’ It was the right choice as I excelled and I’m really glad those people believed in me and told me to believe in myself.
“I took the time to overcome that and learned to listen when someone told me I was doing great — that it was true and to stop doubting my own abilities and be comfortable in the skin that I’m in,” she added.
There are challenges in every career, pointed out Jamie McMillan, boilermaker/ironworker and founder of KickAss Careers.
“I have had times when I wanted to give up,” said McMillan. “You have your good days and your bad days and that will always happen. You are always going to have struggles, barriers and challenges no matter what workplace you’re in. What I have learned over the years is that success is the best revenge.
“I was all about proving them wrong. Moving forward that is a good attitude to have always knowing that you can do anything.”
It’s also important to have a supportive team.
“I encourage everyone to find yourself a supportive group, find mentors and find people that will keep you moving forward and have your back all the time,” McMillan said.
The biggest obstacle Jill Timushka, the national manager of youth, diversity and Indigenous relations and a B pressure welder with UA Canada, had to overcome was people kept telling her she couldn’t do it.
“I just refused to listen to them and it kind of lit that fire,” she said. “Overcoming the fact that people will question your skills and your integrity is something you’re going to have to get used to, especially as a welder when you start at any jobsite. People like to test your skills and see if you’re actually good at what you do. Once you prove yourself then you can do your job.”
Another hurdle she had to overcome was being a single parent working in the skilled trades.
“Statistics show that a lot of tradespeople leave the trades because they find it too challenging for finding child care or to juggle everything. I really think that is a shame,” said Timushka. “I think we need to start exploring these child care options. There is no reason these daycare centres can’t open a couple of hours earlier.”
Panellists agreed it’s more difficult to retain people than recruit people in the industry.
“It’s easy to promote the trades. They offer really good money, benefits and pension packages. We have really cool jobs. We do some really incredible things, but there are barriers as well,” said McMillan. “The recruitment part is easy, but the retention part can be difficult for many reasons. The way employers can help is with that communication piece, that mentorship piece. We need to form groups that work together to help encourage each other. It’s also helpful to have a good relationship. Employers really need to understand and support that as well.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.