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Build TogetHER BC continues connecting women to the skilled trades

Peter Caulfield
Build TogetHER BC continues connecting women to the skilled trades
SUBMITTED PHOTOS - From left, Ashley Duncan and Chelsea French are co-chairs of Build TogetHER BC.

With a shortfall of construction workers looming, the industry has worked hard to recruit more women using creative and supportive approaches.

For example, Kristine Byers, a carpenter and representative of the BC Regional Council of Carpenters, and Julia Ballantyne, an HVAC technician and organizer with United Association 516, visited the Fraser Valley Institution for Women (FVIW) several times over two years. 

“We visited groups of minimum- and medium-security inmates,” said Byers.

Wearing their work clothes and with the tools of their respective trades at their sides, the women made one-hour Power Point presentations and told the women how they got into the trades.

“We explained the trades and apprenticeships and the opportunities available,” said Byers. 

Byers and Ballantyne were asked a variety of questions, including how much the work pays, how are women treated, how much education and training is required and how much the training costs.

“Our time at the institution was well spent,” Byers said. “All the women were interested and some were enthusiastic.”

Byers and Ballantyne say the skilled trades are an opportunity for women to get out of poverty. They can start employment right away and support their families while they learn.

Ballantyne says the women deserve a second chance and the opportunity to build a better life for themselves.

“They liked the idea of being able to become financially stable and earn while they learn,” Ballantyne said. “We’re planning to return to Fraser Valley Institution for Women after the COVID-19 situation has finally passed.”

The presentations at FVIW are sponsored by Build TogetHER BC.

“They’re aimed at women who are close to their release and need to start thinking about rewarding careers that allow them to support themselves and their families,” said Chelsea French, a commercial transportation mechanic and Build TogetHER BC co-chair.

“We’ve also given presentations to elementary, high school and post-secondary students, Girl Guides and various community organizations that assist women,” said French.

Build TogetHER BC tradeswomen talk about their experiences in the trades and how to overcome barriers and become successful.

“We also rely on our own connections in the BC Building Trades – of which we are a committee – to connect us with women members so that we can help, support and mentor them through their apprenticeships,” said French. “The outreach we do is important to Build TogetHer BC to not only work towards informing and recruiting but also to educate and build connections.”

Sponsored by Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU), Build TogetHER is a national program for recruiting and retaining workers from under-represented population groups such as women.

“Build TogetHER was founded in 2013,” said Lindsay Amundsen, CBTU director of work force development. “There are seven chapters – BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.  Each chapter has its own mandate, which varies according to preference.”

Build TogetHER has formed a partnership with the Lean In Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg,  whereby Lean In is providing content and curriculum to build a mentorship program for construction tradeswomen.

Ashley Duncan, Build TogetHER co-chair, says the opportunities for women in construction are wide open now.

“Having a trade brings a great feeling of empowerment and pride that comes from having a job that pays well and that enables you to say you can do things that most people can’t do,” said Duncan.

Build TogetHER is a founding partner of the BC Centre for Women in the Trades (BCCWITT), a partnership of tradeswomen and industry and labour representatives whose goal is to increase the proportion of women in the skilled trades.

BCCWITT career coordinator Karen Fehr, a cabinet maker in Nanaimo, B.C., says construction is still hard for women to break into.

“Women are only four per cent of the construction work force in Canada and that hasn’t changed much since I entered the industry in 1979,” said Fehr.

“Construction needs to work on creating a more inclusive workplace.”

To that end, BCCWITT’s Be More Than a Bystander program is a three-day train-the-trainer program for men in the construction industry.

“The program teaches men about the impact of male violence on women and giving them the language and the tools to teach other men how to be more than a bystander through practical intervention strategies,” said BCCWITT executive director Nina Hansen. “The guys leave the training with the tools to facilitate a 90-minute workshop back in their workplaces.”

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