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New BCIT program aims to spark electrician career choice for women

Peter Caulfield
New BCIT program aims to spark electrician career choice for women
BCIT - Anna Lary is an electrical instructor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT).

The British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT)  is launching an enhanced Electrical Foundation Program to encourage more women to become electricians.

“Camosun College received funds from Western Economic Diversification to lead a three-party collaboration of Camosun College, Okanagan College and BCIT to support 54 women to enter apprenticeship trades training and complete their Red Seal,” said BCIT electrical instructor Anna Lary.

Each institution will enroll 18 women, with the pilot classes scheduled to begin in January 2021.

The curriculum enhancement, which Lary is helping to create, will focus on such soft skills as collaboration, mentorship and resilience.

The enhancement will not be a separate curriculum. It will become part of the existing foundation program and will show instructors how to create inclusive learning environments.

“To support the development of the project, and to ensure we focused on the right elements for success, in April and May (2020) we ran three focus groups,” said Lary. “One was for foundation instructors, one for apprentices/journeywomen and one for employers.”

The 90-minute focus groups collected feedback on a variety of subjects, such as curriculum content and program structure.

BCIT’s Electrical Foundation is a pre-employment program, says Lary, who has been a BCIT electrical instructor for seven of the 25 years she has been an electrician.

“Approximately five percent of all the people enrolled in the program every year are women, and the percentage hasn’t changed much over the years,” she said.  “We want to get the numbers up.”

Lary says the electrical trades are a great occupation for women.

“It gives you access to a huge career in which you can work your way up in an organization or follow your own interests,” she said. “It’s very diverse; there’s something in it for everybody.”

Lary says being an electrician is very empowering.

“It’s nice to know you can wire your own house; it gives you a feeling of competence,” she said. “It’s also rewarding financially. The money can be especially good if you’re a member of a union.”

At the present time there are few female electricians in B.C. or the rest of Canada, Lary says.

“We need more women in the profession,” she said. “We want to get the percentage of women electricians up. Even 15 per cent of the total would make a big difference.”

BCIT’s Electrical Foundation Program has been in existence, in one name or another, for about 40 years, says Ted Simmons, chief instructor of the electrical trades programs.

The six-month program provides graduates with both the theoretical and practical hands-on skills that are necessary to become an electrician.

Students are a mix of young people and mature students.

Successful graduates of the foundation program get credit for Level 1 technical training in the electrical apprenticeship program.

“The foundation program gives students hands-on experience that they might not otherwise get,” said Simmons. “Most electrical contractors in BC are BCIT grads.”

Simmons says BCIT is taking the Foundation Program and enhancing it so that it focuses on the recruitment and retention of female electricians.

“There is a serious shortage of electricians and other skilled construction tradesmen and tradeswomen,” he said. “The industry can barely keep up with the demand for labour.”

Simmons says BCIT wants to encourage more women to enter all the skilled trades.

“Currently we’re assessing what the barriers to entry into the trades for women are,” he said. “That was why we had the focus groups. The next step will be to break those barriers down and build up those parts of the curriculum that need to be enhanced.”

Simmons says the prospects for women in the trades are looking up.  “Compared to 30 years ago we’ve been getting more inquiries from women,” he said. “Now there are at least a few women in every class. In the future, we would like at least six females, out of a total of 16, in the electrical foundation program.”

For more information about women in the electrical trades, contact Anna Lary at alary@bcit.ca

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