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Women entering trades a Skills Canada conference focus

Warren Frey
Women entering trades a Skills Canada conference focus
PHOTO BY VERCHERE PHOTOGRAPHY FOR THE BC TRADESWOMEN SOCIETY — Sandra Brynjolfson (left) and Julia Ballantyne (centre) are working to help retain and advance women in the trades.

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – British Columbia women interested in the skilled trades are combining hands-on experience with meeting mentors and networking with their peers.

Skills Canada BC’s Trade and Technology Conference for Women took place in the loft space above the first floor of the Tradex in Abbotsford, B.C. where secondary and post-secondary students competed across numerous skilled trades events. The winners from this regional competition move to the national event later this year in Halifax, N.S.

The conference focused on collaboration, with female students from grades 9-12 and female mentors going through 12 rotations with two mentors at each table and 10 students for each rotation. Activities included networking, engaging in hands-on activities and viewing relevant videos.

“We’ve been running this conference for about five years and it’s in conjunction with our provincial competitions,” Skills Canada BC director of programs Michelle Skelly said. “We have about 25 mentors here today in fields that range from aircraft maintenance to electricians, welders, carpenters, heavy equipment operators, elevator mechanics, chefs and hairstylists…a lot of different trades and technology mentors who have taken the time to volunteer to talk about their careers.”

“Women here are learning from other women who are already in the field, so they can talk to them about everything from what a typical day is like on the job to how they got into their field, if they work indoors or outdoors, to what some myths are about some jobs and what kind of schooling they went through or if they’re in an apprenticeship,” Skelly said.

The event is geared towards female secondary school students, she added, “because that’s the age where they’re starting to think about careers, taking different courses in school and some of them are actually in an introduction to trades program and have an interest in learning about a career in the trades.” 

Skelly said as the conference has progressed from year to year there has been a concurrent rise of interest from women about entering the skilled trades.

“There’s new organizations out there, trades programs in some school districts that have been implemented are growing and we’re getting interest in our competitions as well. It is growing and women are starting to understand that even the ‘non-traditional’ trades have so many opportunities and we’re debunking the myths about those skilled trades and about women getting into those trades,” she said.

Women are also made aware of potential roadblocks as they begin their career path in the trades.

“There are some environments that are slower to evolve than other environments,” Skelly said. “For women it can be tougher on the job site with some of the misconceptions that they can’t do the job, do heavy lifting or use a power tool, but that’s slowly evolving and changing and some of the mentors here have been spearheading change in the workplace.”

Change is also the responsibility of employers, Skelly said.

“We’re trying to alter their perceptions too so they can create a work environment that is open and welcoming to women. A lot of employers need to get on board with those changes,” she said.

Kate Campbell, star of several different HGTV shows including “Disaster Decks and “Holmes on Homes” was also a keynote speaker at the event.

“Kate had an amazing story to tell about how she got into the skilled trades and the amazing opportunities there are to go into these careers,” Skelly said.

Interest from women in not only the conference but the concurrent Skills Canada competitions has also increased, she added.

“We’re certainly seeing perceptions starting to change, which is changing some of the people going into competition as well,” Skelly said.

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