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ITA celebrates women and youth in trades

Russell Hixson
ITA celebrates women and youth in trades

When Jaymee Lynn was in high school, she planned on studying psychology at the University of Victoria. But after getting a chance to work with her hands, that all changed.

A program at Riverside Secondary School in Port Coquitlam, B.C. let her help build a shed for the Bright Lights Christmas Train in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

After that she set her sights on the trades. She is now 18 and a first-year carpentry apprentice.

"My favourite thing is I get to see all my work being put towards something and that’s very rewarding to me," she said.

Deciding on a career path in the trades wasn’t an easy decision. Many of her friends took a different path and have gone to university. But the joy of building things and the high paying work has kept her on her own path, he explained.

"Don’t let other people around you stop you from taking that leap," she advised.

Lynn was one of the presenters at the 11th annual Youth Day conference, held by the Industry Training Authority (ITA) in Richmond.

The event brought together more than 170 educators, career counsellors, employers, tradespeople and industry representatives to learn first-hand from female tradespeople about their experiences and to share best practices, insights and opportunities for young people in the skilled trades.

The one-day conference featured a workshop on promoting women in non-traditional trades, round-table discussions on timely subjects, an update on ITA youth programs and a session highlighting innovative and sustainable trades programming.

The ITA has made progress in recent years increasing the representation of women in trades and are working to build on that success, explained a release. Women currently comprise just under 10 per cent of all registered apprentices in the ITA’s apprenticeship system to date. With so many lucrative trades paths for women, the ITA continues to look at ways to remove barriers to entry and increase women’s participation.

Keynote speaker Jamie McMillan, an ironworker from Ontario who started the Journeyman initiative and, kicked off the day by speaking about how she found her passion for the trades, what she has learned along her journey and how she is inspiring women to pursue skilled trades careers.

Erin Johnston, ITA director of training, said that female participation in trades over the past few years has increased from eight per cent to over 10 per cent, but more work needs to be done, especially reaching women in their younger years.

"One in 10 tradespersons are women and one in four of those are under 19," said Johnston. "That is a remarkable jump."

She said the key players are employers. Without the opportunity of that first job, young women can’t gain experience and progress.

"It is harder for women to get that first job," said Johnston. "They need to be open to hiring women. And when women come, make sure that sites are safe and the culture is accepting of everyone."

Once women enter the trades, keeping them there can be a struggle as travel and organizing child care can become a challenge for mothers, she added.

She said educators have been doing their part by running programs, like the one that sparked Lynn’s interest.

Some schools are offering programs that give students on-the-job experience simulating a 40-hour work week and real projects to help them decide if construction is really for them. In Guildford Park in Surrey, students are building fully plumbed micro homes that are sold and the profit is poured back into the program.

"It is not just manual labour. It is about problem solving, using your mind and your hands to solve real world problems," said Johnston.

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