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CAF launches national strategy to support women in the trades

Angela Gismondi
CAF launches national strategy to support women in the trades

The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF) recently released the first-ever National Strategy for Supporting Women in Trades (SWIT), establishing a target to increase participation and retention of women in skilled trades careers to 15 per cent by 2030.

According to Statistics Canada Registered Apprenticeship Information System 2018 data, women represented 4.5 per cent of apprentice registrations in the construction, manufacturing and transportation sectors.

“The number of women hired in a skilled trade, that’s the number we’re trying to change,” explained France Daviault, executive director of CAF.

“The goal of the strategy is absolutely to move the number. It hasn’t moved in years. Nothing else seems to be working.”

The strategy has been a few years in the making.

At the National Conference for Women in the Trades in Halifax in 2018, a road map was developed.

“The participants got together and said in a perfect world this is where we need to be in order for women to have a safe workplace and equitable opportunities,” said Daviault.

Another women’s conference was held in Vancouver last year.

“The point of that conference was to say, ‘there is a road map that those that are affected by this put together.’

“We know where we need to go, how do we get there?” said Daviault. “At the end of the conference it was so inspiring that everybody that was there made a commitment that we were going to continue to move this along with tangible action. We made a commitment to striking a task force that would create the strategy and we committed to identifying a target, a number. Numbers scare a lot of people, so there was excitement but at the same time there was trepidation.”

In September a task force of CAF members interested in participating in the strategy was assembled.

“We had 60 organizations put people forward,” Daviault explained. “A task force of 60 is difficult to manage but here we are just over a year later with a final strategy. The development of it was very much 100 per cent, community-led, industry-led. We had union representatives, educators, policy-makers, employers, tradeswomen and apprentices.”

There are a lot of initiatives already happening across the country as it relates to promoting these careers for women and also supporting them once they enter the trades, Daviault pointed out.

“We needed to make sure that this strategy, whatever was put forward, was actually doable and measurable and there needs to be a numerical goal,” she said.

The strategy, with the tagline #Champions4Change, has four measurable action items that are intended to generate awareness, trigger policy change, recognize best practices and create skilled trade workplace environments where women’s representation increases, states a CAF release.

The first is to develop a call to action campaign where champions are recognized and tools for change are provided. It also involves creating a national movement that includes all stakeholders.

“Part of the national movement is to create a pledge for employers,” said Daviault. “In order to effect real change, the employers that are signing up are taking the pledge to be champions and having their logo on the strategy website have to hire and train women apprentices and journeypeople. Not only that, they have to fill out a survey of how many and what kind of jobs they are doing.

“They have to agree to publish that information and send us the numbers year over year.”

The second item is to work with all levels of governments to implement diversity targets on infrastructure projects and hold employers and unions accountable by publishing actual hiring numbers.

“What this does is creates pressure for policy change,” Daviault explained.

The third action item is to develop toolboxes for employers, labour organizations, educators and tradeswomen and their allies to develop information for creating a respectful workplace and create an understanding that organizations need to develop and implement a concrete action plan.

“There are hundreds of research projects and pilot projects that have been looked at, tried and implemented as it relates to getting more women interested in the trades and retaining them,” said Daviault. “All these things are piecemeal, and we wanted to put them in one place.”

The fourth item is to set a measurable target, track and publish results, create awareness of the actual proportion of women in the workplace and outline a plan to increase representation.

“It’s really holding them accountable,” Daviault said. “The idea is not to shame any organization or any employer with low numbers, the idea is to celebrate when there is movement and to work towards movement.”

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