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Women of Steel: Forging Forward Program launches across Canada

Don Procter
Women of Steel: Forging Forward Program launches across Canada
PHOTO COURTESY CWB - The CWB Welding Foundation is launching a multi-week pre-employment welding course for about 180 women across Canada.

Aiming to up the ranks of women in welding trades, the CWB Welding Foundation is launching a multi-week pre-employment welding course for about 180 women across Canada.

The Women of Steel: Forging Forward Program will run in partnership with 14 trainers, primarily post-secondary institutes, in eight provinces, including up to three partners in Ontario this year.

The curriculum will be based on regional needs, with health and safety and welding basics covered in the course.

“We want to give the women the best opportunity for jobs that support the local economy,” says Mary Fuke, program manager at the CWB foundation, a national not-for-profit founded by the Canadian Welding Bureau in 2013.

In one region the teaching might be geared to welding for ship building while in another the focus could be on construction of industrial buildings, she points out.

“Welding is a foundational skill that can open the door to so many different opportunities. You don’t just have to be a welder, you could go into welding technology, manufacturing, shipbuilding, ironworking,” Fuke says.

Safety will be a common thread and every student will receive an “employment kit” containing a welding helmet, jacket, gloves and other needs to prepare them for work.

The course will range from 12 to 16 weeks, depending on the available student subsidies in the province.

“We want to make sure the students are fully covered and not scrambling to find living expenses,” says Fuke.

The course is open to women or anyone identifying as non-binary. It includes women from racialized or marginalized groups such as Indigenous, Black, newcomers, LGBTQ2S, women with disabilities, or with a prolonged detachment from the labour force, the program manager says.

Funding for the course includes wraparound supports, such as child care, transportation and mental health and wellness services. A mentorship program and workplace inclusivity sessions with employers are also funded.

“We want to make sure they stay in the field,” Fuke says, noting additional training from the CWB for student advancement is also being organized.

The course is part of “a continuous initiative” to increase the ranks of women in welding trades which now stands at three to five per cent, depending on region, she says.

“We want to move that needle…to see more than five per cent.”

Fuke says increasing women in welding is realistic because many employers have indicated a desire for more women welders largely because they see them as having good work habits.

“They tend to pay attention to details.”

Forging Forward is receiving $4 million from the federal government’s Adult Learning Literacy and Essential Skills — Women’s Employment Readiness Program. All training sites are CWB test centres and registered to grant level one apprenticeship.

The first course will start in February, with a number of others across Canada to follow throughout 2023.

Fuke says the CWB will continue to look for sponsors to keep the program rolling.

“One-hundred eighty (women) is just a start.”

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