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Industry Voices: Powering up women in the construction trades

Cory Williams
Industry Voices: Powering up women in the construction trades

I have been working with British Columbia’s construction sector for the majority of my working life. As a certified female journeyperson, I am especially interested in women who have entered into the construction trades.

What was the pathway they followed to get here? If they encountered barriers along that path, how did they deal with them? What are their long-term goals?

This sector provides significant opportunity for successful careers for women, both on the tools and up the ladder. I’m very pleased to say we have more and more women entering the field, and more and more employers openly receptive and actively pursuing the hiring of female construction trades apprentices and journeypersons.

Unfortunately, women still make up just 10 per cent of the entire skilled trades workforce in B.C. and even less in the construction sector, hovering around 4.5 per cent. We need to keep doing more to change this.

Why focus on women? Because it makes good business sense. With the addition of nearly one million job openings expected in the province by 2024, women are poised to play an increasingly important role in keeping B.C.’s economy diverse, strong and growing, particularly in the trade and technology sectors. Careers in the skilled trades also provide opportunity for women to succeed in the workforce and secure well-paying jobs.

In 2014, the B.C. government launched B.C.’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint to re-engineer our education and training system so British Columbians can get the skills they need to be first in line for these upcoming job openings. This re-focus includes investing in trades training programs specifically designed for women, including a recent funding announcement of $1.8 million for the Women in Trades Training (WITT) initiative through the Industry Training Authority (ITA), and other available pre-apprenticeship training programs, which help support women to get the skills and training they need to start a career in the trades. These programs are making a significant difference.

ITA has been supporting WITT initiatives since 2008. Today in B.C. we have approximately 3,900 women apprentices registered in 74 different trades with 45 per cent (1,778) of those women apprentices registered in "non-traditional" trades (such as welder, carpenter, plumber, construction electrician) and it is especially encouraging to see doors being opened for those who want to pursue careers as plumbers, electricians, sheet-metal workers, carpenters or heavy equipment operators.

For example, since 2008, there has been a 75 per cent increase in the number of female welder apprentices. The number of women in heavy equipment operator (HEO) apprenticeships has also increased from just nine apprentices in 2008 to 47 in 2016.

That’s a whopping 422 per cent increase. In 2015, women accounted for 14 per cent of all HEO apprentices, which is approaching the magic number of "15 per cent." Research by the Construction Sector Council has shown for trades where 15 per cent of the apprentices or journeypersons are women, more women will stay successfully engaged in the trade, complete their apprenticeship training and attain full journeyperson certification.

There is growing interest in trade careers amongst women in B.C. and we know women arrive in the trades from a number of very different pathways. ITA is focused on ensuring that the right resources and tools are in place to continue to foster curiosity and put that into action, and our WITT initiative connects women of all backgrounds with funded training opportunities across B.C., helping them overcome barriers to entering the trades.

ITA has also produced a best practices guide for employers.

Leveling the Field: A Best Practices Guide to Employing Women in the Trades covers recruitment and hiring, orientation, developing and maintaining a safe and welcoming workplace and retention.

It is designed to serve as a practical tool for hiring and training managers for organizations large and small.

The stories of women in the trades are interesting and powerful and we want to share these successes via www.itabc.ca/women-trades/success-stories.

If you are a tradeswomen or an employer of women in the trades, please contact us. Tell us your story about your pathway into the construction trades. Or, as an employer, how you are supporting female apprentices or journeypersons in your workforce. Connect with us at womenintrades@itabc.ca.

Cory Williams is manager, industry relations, Construction at the Industry Training Authority cwilliams@itabc.ca.

Send comments or Industry Voices ideas to editor@journalofcommerce.com.

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