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Women still not embracing a career in trades

Jean Sorensen

BY JEAN SORENSEN – A barrage of programs and organizations aimed at encouraging women to enter the construction trades isn’t working so Canada’s Building Trade Unions (CBTU) have launched a new initiative.

“In Canada women represent only four per cent of the construction trade workforce. In other skilled trades, that number is even smaller,” stated a press release issued by the CBTU at their recent Legislative Conference in Gatineau, Quebec.

The figure corresponds with a Canadian Broadcasting (CBC) report from last month, which reunited members of Vancouver Women in Trades (VWT) to discuss the challenges they faced more than three decades ago.

The organization was in existence from 1979 to 1984.

VWT carpenter Kate Braid said in the 1970s only three per cent of plumbers, carpenters, welders and other blue collar workers were women.

She said that number of women in trades is now pegged at about 10 per cent.

“But, when you take hairdressers and chefs out, it’s still three per cent. Something is stuck. We need a new approach,” Braid said.

The Industry Training Authority’s (ITA) is aware of these concerns.

“In the construction trades there has been little progress,” said Erin Johnston with the ITA.

The largest increases have come in heavy equipment apprentices (65 per cent), cabinet makers (31 per cent) and horticulture (14 per cent) from 2009 to 2013.

“We found that on trades where there are 15 per cent women, the women complete the apprenticeship training,” she said.

The completion rates drops when there is a lower percentage of women on the job.

Journeyman is the new name for the CBTU initiative. The logo includes the gender symbol for woman attached below the “o.”

However, it is still unknown whether it will effect change.

There are still a number of organization and training initiatives without a co-ordinated focus. There’s no relevant studies on retention and exit rates, except a recent ITA report.

The Canadian Building Trades Unions has women from all 14 member unions available to help women in trades.

“The “Journeyman” representatives will be attending various regional and local events on behalf of CBTU, including networking functions, mentorship events, high schools, charity and media events, trade shows and career fairs,” said the release.

Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the B.C. & Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council said the program opens the door to bring more women into the trades with an active B.C. representative.

“We still have small numbers,” he conceded, but added that more women are involved with trades training in schools.

“Ten years ago, you didn’t see them there,” he said.

The Electrical Joint-Training Commission (EJTC) is also not drawing in the women it wants.

At a May 3 open house directed at women, it hired a videographer to capture the three-hour event and is making promotional clips to post on the Internet.

“We could have used more numbers,” said Andy Cleven of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who estimates that 5-10 per cent of the trade are women.

A total of 25 women turned up for the day’s event, which also draws candidates for the EJTC’s $5,200 foundation 15-week course, which provides basic Level 1 knowledge towards an apprenticeship opportunity.

It also provides 10-weeks of work experience at a starting rate of $13.29 an hour. The application deadline for the next course in September is the end of May.

The B.C. Construction Association’s Abigail Fulton said it has programs that support women in construction.

“They should have a job first,” she said, adding that foundation courses should not be confused with apprenticeship training on a jobsite.

Fulton said the BCCA’s experience has been the jobsites where women can buddy up work best.

That’s underscored by Thompson River University’s (TRU) trades training school, which has provided women role models throughout its program and has yielded high returns.

“In 2009 when I came here, three per cent of our enrollment was women. We are now at 20 per cent,” said school dean Lindsay Langill.

“I think we have one of the highest in the province.”

The three feedstreams of women enrolling are high school students, university graduates with no applied skills, and single mothers.

The program has received a $700,000 boost from the Royal Bank to promote women in trades.

Langill said he has also worked to change the culture, wanting a more respectful co-ed environment within the trades school.

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