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Industry Voices: The importance of embracing diversity within construction

0 206 Labour

by Tara Fong

The world has never been more accessible than it is today. Advances in virtual reality allow us to experience faraway lands from our living rooms, families can enjoy dinner together in multiple time zones through Skype or FaceTime and remarkable stories from around the world can be monitored in real time, all from the palm of our hands.
Industry Voices: The importance of embracing diversity within construction

Yet despite living in a near-borderless world, countless women and under-represented groups still struggle to overcome boundaries to accessing career paths. Well, if you need to borrow a hammer to break down another one of those barriers, I would be glad to lend you one, because B.C. is leading the way for those pursuing a career in the trades.

In my current position as manager of the Canada-British Columbia Job Fund Programs at the Industry Training Authority (ITA), I am privileged to encourage and assist others to find their path towards a career in the skilled trades.

From my experience, it is the diversity in our workforce that makes for stronger workers, businesses and communities — allowing us to apply unique perspectives to new projects and leverage past experiences to achieve new solutions.

As such, it is imperative that we continue to move the dial and open the door to groups under-represented in the construction trades. With an impending demand for skilled labour across our province (nearly one million job openings across the province by 2025), and British Columbians retiring at a rapid rate, this initiative is more important than ever before if we are to successfully break down barriers in accessing training and resources to fulfil the needs of our growing economy.

What are we doing to achieve this? At ITA, we will continue to work in partnership with employers, employment service providers, public post-secondary institutions, private training providers and indigenous communities to increase the participation of under-represented groups such as women, new Canadians, First Nations and people with disabilities in skilled trades career opportunities. And while we are pleased to lead from the front in our Women in Trades Training (WITT), Aboriginals in Trades Training (AITT) and Immigrants in Trades Training (ITT) funded training opportunities, this is something all sectors ought to make a priority in developing their workforces moving forward.

Since 2008, ITA's WITT programs have been providing training to eligible women who are looking for higher paying or challenging careers; women like Tawny Fortier from Kamloops.

Fortier, a strong and proud aboriginal tradeswoman and single mother, is now a fourth-year electrical apprentice thanks to her strong-willed perseverance and a little help from the WITT program. As an eligible program participant, she was able to connect with funded training opportunities that allowed her to overcome the barriers that were holding her back from a successful and fulfilling career.

Fortier's advice: "For all the powerful women out there who might be hesitant to take the first step, my advice is to know your worth and go for it."

We are proud to say there are now more than 3,900 registered women apprentices in B.C., but that figure still falls short of the industry benchmark. In a province that continues to lead the country on multiple fronts, and despite nearly a decade of industry-leading training initiatives from Prince Rupert to Port Moody, women still represent just 10.4 per cent of all registered apprentices in B.C. and 4.4 per cent of apprentices in the male-dominated industrial and construction industries. Fifteen per cent is the tipping point. When 15 per cent of a workforce is women, that's when things start to really change. Workplaces become more accommodating and momentum turns into action.

British Columbia is still leading the nation in economic growth and job growth. A growing economy is a true testament to our booming construction industry and the skilled labourers who are building our province from the ground up. However, as demand increases for construction projects across the province, so too does the strain on our skilled trades labour force.

Sadly, women continue to be under-represented in the trades due to the perpetuation of age-old stereotypes. In an effort to debunk myths and arm employers with the knowledge they need to build a skilled workforce, ITA developed Leveling the Field: A Best Practices Guide to Employing Women in the Trades. We know there is a growing interest in trade careers among women in B.C. that must continue to be harnessed and ITA is committed to empowering it, ensuring the right resources and tools are readily available to turn curiosity into careers.

With International Women's Day still top-of-mind, we encourage everyone to lead from the front in addressing gaps to employment across all groups, to make sure we have the labour in place to meet the demand — and, because it's 2017.

Tara Fong is the manager of the Canada-British Columbia Job Fund Programs at the Industry Training Authority. Send comments or questions to editor@journalofcommerce.com.

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