Rarely women outnumber men in a construction training course, but a three-week class in basic carpentry raised the eyebrows of organizers when 12 women and only one man registered.
Algonquin College instructor Ruth Sabourin was “surprised” to see that many women in the class, which is part of the Northern Youth Abroad (NYA) program, an Ottawa-based charitable organization offering educational and community leadership opportunities for young people in Canada’s Far North.
“I don’t think many of the girls signed up with the carpentry class as their main objective, but all were interested in learning,” says Sabourin. “It didn’t take long for them to engage in operating tools.”
During the three-week class the Inuit and Dene students, who ranged in age from 17 to 24, learned construction safety, how to do layouts and operate power tools, including mitre and table saws and routers.
By the end of the course, they had completed three projects, culminating in a doghouse. Working in teams, they learned how to plan their projects first, read drawings, frame, trim and roof, says Sabourin.
“Our goal was to provide a course that students at any level academically could be successful in and complete, allowing them to be encouraged by their abilities.”
Nick Pelletier, program officer with the NYA, watched the students go from having limited knowledge of the trade in the first week to understanding the know-how of wood construction by week three.
While many women didn’t enter the program with sights on a construction career, they came away with construction skills they can use back home, he says.
“Even those women hesitant at first (to use power tools) warmed up to the idea quickly and discovered they had abilities they were unaware of,” points out Sabourin, adding several participants showed a keen interest in taking the next step into the trade.
It was the first time to southern Canada for many of the students who come from remote and often fly-in communities in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
For some of them it was a culture shock.
Life in Ottawa and the NYA program at Algonquin College were positive learning experiences for 21-year-old Suupi Idlout of Resolute Bay, Nunavut.
While she is not planning to pursue a career in construction, she says the carpentry course gave her the confidence and ability to safely do basic projects around her home.
“I always wanted to learn more about carpentry, but no one really told me how.”
The class also gave her a chance to work in a team environment, bringing out some of her natural leadership skills.
“I tend to like to work alone but here you had to learn to work around other people…and help them out if they needed it.”
She believes the NYA experience for her and others can open doors to educational and training opportunities in southern Canada that are not available in Nunavut and N.W.T.
Sabourin says Algonquin College has a “healthy Indigenous community” and a solid support network that can help new students from the North fit in.
A cabinet-maker by trade, she primarily works at Algonquin College in a support staff role, teaching short courses on various subjects.
It was her first time teaching the carpentry class.
“I hope to see some of these students back here soon,” says Sabourin. “I enjoyed learning from them as much as I hoped they learned from me.”