Many women in the construction industry with children often have to choose between taking a job and taking care of their children.
“Everything goes around the kids,” explained Patricia Tejeda during a recent online discussion hosted by the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN).
A single mother from the Dominican Republic with two young kids, Tejeda said, “To be able to accept a job offer and also to have the kids in school and pay for care or pay a salary to a caregiver, there is no way that I can do it right now.
“If I don’t have the subsidy and the help there is no way I can pay for rent, car, insurance, food, the basics.”
The TCBN kicked off a new season of the Career Talks in Construction — Future of Construction and Trades Jobs in Toronto (How to deal with the labour shortage?) series Jan 26. with a discussion on child care.
Tejeda had an office job before deciding to switch to a construction career. She has graduated from the TCBN Quickstart in Construction pre-apprenticeship program and NexGen Builders Mentorship program as a mentee.
“I started looking at the trades and you see that’s what really fits your personality is something different, something that makes you feel more accomplished,” she said. “I just decided I want to make this jump. I want to make this change.”
One of the things that drew her to the Quickstart program was the support for child care.
“That was something that helped me go into it. I was able to pay a person (for child care) and be present in the class,” said Tejeda.
All that changed in 2020. Her children started school and required before and after school care. Two hours in the morning and in the afternoon for two children costs $2,000 a month, she said. In addition she was no longer receiving a government subsidy because she had worked too much in 2019 to be eligible. She got placed into a construction union but has not been able to take on any jobs.
“I don’t know how they (the government) made the calculations, how they say ‘you make enough money to pay for daycare and also to support a family by yourself,’” said Tejeda.
“That took me out of my place, it affected everything — my house, the day care, my workplace.”
“There is no balance,” she added. “It means I have to work less to be able to get the subsidy but then I am struggling all the time.”
Armine Yalnizyan, a Canadian economist and writer who served as senior economic policy adviser for the deputy minister at Employment and Social Development Canada from 2018 to 2019, was also part of the panel. She said child care should be treated like critical social infrastructure because it is every bit as critical as roads and bridges.
“Without that care support too many people can’t take advantage of what is there,” she said.
“We know that we need to support our working age population better and child care is going to be one part of it.”
The demographics show there are going to be more people in their 20s and 30s entering the construction field because they can see that it’s a growth area.
“Those people by and large tend to form families and have children,” Yalnizyan explained.
“If you think that child care is just the thing that is stopping a woman like Patricia from doing it, far from it. There are going to be issues for young families going forward. We are going to have the smallest working age cohort…that are going to be lifting up more people who are too young, too old or two sick to work than we’ve seen since the ‘50s and ‘60s, except this is not going to go on for a few years, this is going to go on for decades.”
More consistency regarding access and quality of child care is needed in Ontario and across the country, she added.
“We need more women to get back into the labour market. They can’t without the child care. The provincial government has dropped the ball on this mission… We need to be training people now. We need to be getting this provincial government to introduce 10 paid sick days and training for early childhood educators right now.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.