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Students experience everything the trades have to offer at Jill of All Trades

Angela Gismondi
Students experience everything the trades have to offer at Jill of All Trades
PHOTO COURTESY JILL OF ALL TRADES - Youth had the opportunity to try their hand at masonry, carpentry, automotive repair and welding at the Jill of All Trades event held at the Conestoga Skilled Trades Campus in Cambridge, Ont.

The Jill of All Trades (JOAT) event at the Conestoga Skilled Trades Campus brought together hundreds of young women to get hands-on experience, inspiration and information on pursuing a career in the skilled trades.

About 300 high school girls from Grades 9 to 12 from 11 school boards in southwestern Ontario took part in the day-long event held in Cambridge, Ont.  

Students had the opportunity to try their hand at the basics of the trades including masonry, framing and insulation, carpentry, automotive repair, welding and HVAC. They also met women working in the trades and connected with industry representatives.

“About 270 young women attended the event and there were over 700 people on campus just supporting Jill of All Trades for the day. It was awesome,” stated Rosie Hessian, chair of the school of interdisciplinary studies at Conestoga College and director of JOAT. “The girls were engaging, asking lots of questions about different pathways at local companies, local industry. We had an amazing keynote speaker and the girls experienced three individual workshops and had hands-on activities. They even made take home items.”

At the events, high school students rolled up their sleeves and tried their hands at the trades. They also connected with industry representatives and female mentors who provided a glimpse into skilled trades careers.
PHOTO COURTESY JILL OF ALL TRADES – At the events, high school students rolled up their sleeves and tried their hands at the trades. They also connected with industry representatives and female mentors who provided a glimpse into skilled trades careers.

While the girls are a bit apprehensive at first, they quickly warm up, Hessian said.

“When they first come on to the campus, they’re a little bit shy,” she said. “They start exploring, going to the booths…and at the booths are local employers and industry sponsors and they’re asking questions like, ‘What does your company offer? What does your company do? What do I need to take in post-secondary in order to become an employee at your company?’”

JOAT was launched by Conestoga in 2014 for local high school women to learn about opportunities available in trades-based education and careers from female mentors.

In recent years, it has expanded across Canada and the U.S.

“We’re currently doing 18 events in 2024 across North America,” Hessian said. “We’ll have, participant-wise, approximately 4,000 people by the end of 2024 across North America. We plan to do 25 events in Canada and 20 in the U.S. by the end of 2026.”

JOAT is spreading a consistent message through all of its events, Hessian explained.

“At the events an agenda is provided, an operational plan is provided as well as a person that helps with creating that event for that particular post-secondary institution,” she noted. “The idea is that each individual participant would participate in three different workshops. These would be a variety of workshops. Here in Canada we call them industrial trades, construction trades and motive power trades.”

There are also opportunities to network and be mentored in those workshops.

“The mentor piece is very important because it brings in industry partners, apprentices, journeypeople, hopefully female, to support those young women that are in the workshops in creating, making or experiencing something and being those role models for those young women to say, ‘Hey, this is my pathway, this is how I became a tradesperson.’”

The initiative is intended to address a skills gap in the workforce as there is an urgent need for over 167,000 new apprentices in Canada by 2028.

“We feel there is an untapped market with young women and those that there’s barriers for them to enter into the skilled trades,” Hessian said. “Jill of All Trades is the answer for that.”

Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.

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