The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF) has announced that its women in the trades advocacy movement is branching out to include other underrepresented communities.
The CAF decided to unveil the realignment of its women’s mandate — a move that was not without opposition, admits CAF CEO France Daviault — at the CAF’s 2023 Supporting Women in Trades Conference held in Winnipeg the second week of June.
Daviault told the 300-plus delegates, “Differently abled, gender-diverse and 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, Indigenous and racialized people who work in the skilled trades will benefit from a collective voice. I believe that women in the skilled trades can now lend a hand up and create an inclusive community and network for all those who deserve equitable opportunities and better treatment.”
The CAF has been holding Women in Trades conferences since 2018 and Daviault explained the delegates have come to realize many of the messages are applicable to broader groups.
“It was a really important step for us. And we found that as leaders in this space, it was important for us to take it because a lot of people had been talking about doing something like this, but we’re actually doing it,” she said, noting half of the delegates attending the conferences have been tradespeople.
“We’ve had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of them. What we’re hearing is that the topics that we’re covering and the opportunities of networking and the opportunities of increasing your skill set and advocating for yourself that happened during the Supporting Women in Trades conferences are really applicable to others who are facing similar barriers.”
Representatives of the other marginalized groups have also been showing up at the conferences.
Daviault said the women’s delegates, who have gained experience in advocacy, decided to invite the others.
“We were talking with the participants who said, ‘you know, this is great, there’s so much movement going on, there’s momentum,’” she said. “It is now our responsibility to bring others to the table and into this opportunity to feel supported, to find their networks.”
The CAF is leading the National Strategy to Support Women in the Trades, a program developed in consultation with employers, labour, educators and equity representatives from multiple trades and regions. The signature target is to increase the number of women apprentices, journeypersons and supervisors to achieve 15 per cent of on-the-job workers by 2030.
Despite the efforts of the CAF and many other organizations, Daviault acknowledges, representation of women on the tools remains at 4.5 per cent.
“We’re finding that the reasons why that number doesn’t change is because we need to address the very serious barriers to retention and the completion rates for example, when we look at apprenticeships, women versus men.
“So that needs to continue to be looked at, but what we know is that anytime we will address completion barriers or barriers to retention in the trades due to non-inclusion, due to discrimination, whatever is worked out there will benefit women, so there will be a direct link to increasing that number.”
At conferences, there will be breakout sessions for the various groups, the CEO said, “but in general, what we’re trying to get to is, where are the commonalities in terms of the barriers and the supports that are required? And how can we provide that platform for those to be shared?
“I’m not going to lie. There was some pushback. There was a feeling that we might lose the momentum around women in the trades, and we spoke to the women in the trades. And they were there. They’re the ones that told us we needed to be more expansive. We’re really happy to be bold on this and we’re hoping others are going to follow.”
There will be a complete rebranding, Daviault said, to accommodate the change in focus. In two years the CAF will host its first Supporting Equity in the Trades Conference, planned for May 24 to 26 in Toronto.
“This a big risk for us,” she said. “We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.