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Associations, Labour

Female participation in B.C. construction trades growing

Russell Hixson
Female participation in B.C. construction trades growing
CHINOOK SCAFFOLD SYSTEMS — Chinook Scaffold Systems workers pose at a jobsite. The company was recently recognized by the BC Construction Association for its efforts to recruit and train underrepresented groups.

After years of hard work, B.C.’s construction industry is starting to see the needle move significantly on female participation in the trades.

According to data from the BC Construction Association (BCCA), the number of women in construction trades careers increased from 4.6 per cent of the workforce to six per cent in the past year. Specifically, the data shows the province now has 10,716 women in the construction trades. 

This brings the industry closer to the province’s goal of getting women to be 10 per cent of the construction workforce by 2028. 

BCCA president Chris Atchison applauded the construction industry for working to change its culture. 

“I think the efforts that are being made throughout the industry, and even through the Industry Training Authority (ITA), have been working on attracting more women and underrepresented groups,” said Atchison. “It’s starting to be reinforced by the industry. The Builders Code, the Be More Than a Bystander, these initiatives are being launched to bring awareness and they are succeeding. While we still have a long way to go, we are putting in place initiatives that are timely and sincere and we are doing what we can to make sure we value all the tradespeople on sites.”

Atchison noted programs like the Builders Code, which is designed to transform construction companies and jobsites into more inclusive work environments, have seen massive participation from the construction sector. 

“When we see hundreds of signatories on the Builders Code in such a short time, we are able to say proudly as an industry that we aren’t just demanding that the government take care of our workforce shortage,” said Atchison. “We have high opportunity occupations and we are taking action on changing our culture.” 

One of those in the industry working to change the culture is Chinook Scaffold Systems, which recently won the Recruiting and Hiring Champion award for this year’s Builders Code Champion Awards. The award recognizes companies that hire the best talent based on skills, experience and attitude; work to attract diverse candidates; look for ways to remove barriers that hold them back; and compensate all employees at fair market value regardless of gender, race, religion or ethnicity.

Wendy Gaskill, Chinook’s corporate safety manager, explained that several years ago one of the company’s female employees told her that she did not feel comfortable at her construction site. Chinook began searching for ways it could help improve the culture in the industry and decided to sign the Builders Code pledge, which helped formalize many things the company already believed and was doing.

The program connected Chinook with Women Building Futures which helped the company organize training events to get women involved in the building trades and started on their path to apprenticeship.

“It’s so refreshing to be able to give not just an opportunity to start in construction, but to give them a hand up,” said Gaskill. “And when you have a company involved in something like Builders Code where they are welcomed, they are more likely to stick around.”

Gaskill said women often feel like they won’t be physically able to do construction jobs or that it’s a career that won’t be flexible enough for them to care for their families.

“It’s not the 1950s anymore. For lots of people in the job market it has not occurred to them that they can get these well-paying jobs,” said Gaskill. “There have been such big changes lately. Women are definitely no longer the oddity onsite, they are very much welcomed.”

While Chinook is proud of its recognition, Gaskill noted it is somewhat bittersweet. 

“It means the world to us to get recognized, but also it is disappointing that we have be recognized for it,” she said. “It should just be the way that you do business.”


Follow the author on Twitter @RussellReports.

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