With the recent introduction of a new pilot project in Fort McMurray, Alta. Women Building Futures (WBF) has taken its initial step toward expansion beyond its long-time Edmonton home base.
"We are planning on beginning operations in Calgary soon," reports Kathy Kimpton, WBF president and CEO, the women-focused trades and training and mentorship program. "We are also considering opening new branches in British Columbia and Ontario where we have potential industry and union partners."
Women Building Futures was established as a non-profit society in 1998 by a small group of women, social workers mostly, who set out to fulfill their shared dream of helping women achieve economic prosperity through trades training and mentorship.
"When we started, there were few women working in the trades," says Kimpton, a long-time administrator in the field of trades college education who assumed her current position last year. (She was chosen as the successor to Judy Lynn Archer who, Kimpton points out, had a profound impact on the organization during her tenure.)
"In those early years, employers were mainly looking to hire women to provide some diversity in their workplaces. Now, those same employers and more are hiring our graduates because they are well trained and prepared."
In the early days, WBF staff worked out of office space borrowed from the City of Edmonton and relied on a series of small grants to stay afloat. As the organization continued to grow, an executive director was hired and WBF signed a three-year lease on a 4,000 square foot basement on 112th Street and Jasper Avenue. It was at this new location, renovated into a training centre, that the WBF assessment process to help women determine their readiness and 'fit' with a career in the trades began to take shape. The design and delivery of a 14-week pre-trades program focusing on carpentry, plumbing and electrical was actualized, and as a result, the construction industry began to take notice.
In December 2005 WBF purchased an old warehouse located at 10326 107 Street in downtown Edmonton, with the intention of retrofitting it into a training and affordable housing facility. Experience to that point showed that many women could not afford to pay market rent and go to school at the same time, especially single mothers.
The WBF Housing Facility and Suncor Energy Training Centre officially opened in June, 2008. This facility, the first of its kind in Canada, allowing WBF to add steamfitting/pipefitting, welding and sheet metal to its training options. From this point on, WBF had a consistent employment rate of 90 per cent.
At the beginning of May, Kimpton notes, WBF added more office space in another building just two blocks away from its main facility.
"As part of our strategic growth plan for 2025, we continue to expand our programming,' Kimpton notes. "As an example, many women who come to us aren't quite ready for the programs we offer. Because of that, we have launched a new foundational learning program in Edmonton through which we can upgrade the education levels and skills for women who require that. The program is tailored to the needs of the individual clients."
Kimpton further notes that WBF has created an online format to be able to reach women in more remote areas.
"It helps us to expand the delivery of our program in a more cost efficient manner — and help women in their own communities," she says.
And, in other news, Kimpton reports that WBF recently launched an endowment fund with an initial capital base of $300,000. She notes that the idea for fund was conceived by her predecessor, JudyLynn Archer, who contributed the first $100,000 and continues to serve the organization as a consultant. (Two other donors matched Archer's pledge.) Interest from the fund is intended to help subsidize housing and training costs for WBF clients.
"Women Building Futures continues to build on our foundation of operating excellence by adhering to a strong set of core values that reflect what is truly important to us as an organization," Kimpton says. "These values represent the constant beacon by which we make our decisions, as a company and as individual employees, every day.
"We are empowering women to become economically prosperous by seeking careers in trades and occupations where women are under-represented and changing their lives in the process."