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Yukon women’s trades group delivers hope, opportunities to young women

0 84 Labour

by Peter Caulfield

Brenda Barnes, executive director of Yukon Women in Trades and Technology (YWITT), speaks of an emotive event that took place at the organization's first Young Women Exploring Trades Conference (YWET) in Whitehorse.
Yukon women’s trades group delivers hope, opportunities to young women

"When it was over, a young First Nations girl in Grade 8 from the small (population 493) community of Carmacks came up to me and, with tears in her eyes, told me it was 'my best day ever,'" Barnes said.

"The conference had opened her eyes to a possibility that had never existed before in her mind. A little bit of hope goes a long way in these poor and remote communities."

YWET is YWITT's annual trades, technology and labour market exploration conference for high school girls.

Each fall, YWITT invites high school girls from across the territory to Whitehorse for trades and technology workshops delivered by its instructors and industry partners.

From 2000, when it started, to 2014, YWET was a one-day event for Grade 8 girls.

In 2015, it partnered with local businesses and organizations to bring 102 high school girls to 14 different businesses and job sites for hands-on workshops in carpentry shops, machinery works, aviation, gas works, car mechanics, computer assembly, helicopters and recreational vehicle servicing.

Grade 8 girls have admission priority, but all ages of high school girls are welcome to apply up to a capacity of 120 students.

"This is a unique opportunity for girls to find out first-hand what it is like to work in different trades and technology fields and for the businesses and industries in the Yukon," said Barnes.

The next YWET will take place in November 2017.

In addition to YWET, YWITT also runs a program for girls called Cool Tools.

Cool Tools is an eight-week, once-a-week after-school program of carpentry, plumbing, electrical, tiling, and fabrication technology.

The program, which is limited to 10 to 12 students, is available to girls in Grades 8 through 12.

Cool Tools runs every year from October to December and from January to March.

One of YWITT'S instructors is carpenter Cassandra Galbraith.

"I've worked with girls in kindergarten and also high school," said Galbraith.

"I helped the kindergartens assemble bird houses. And I introduced the high school girls to all aspects of carpentry, such as how to use a table saw safely and to change the bits in a drill. Both groups are a lot of fun and very enthusiastic."

Carpenter apprentice Jessie White, who is YWITT'S secretary-treasurer, has also worked in the Cool Tools program.

"I help introduce high school girls to carpentry and help them with their projects," said White. "Their projects have ranged from building a simple storage box to constructing a very large and luxurious dog house."

Holding the girls' attention can sometimes be a challenge.

"They're still very young and their minds are on their next boyfriend," White said.

"They'll start to think of their futures by the end of high school."

YWITT was formed as a non-profit society in 2000 to encourage girls and young women to consider and pursue careers in the skilled trades.

"The organization is currently in flux," said executive director Barnes.

"It was founded by an older generation of women who recognized the barriers to women in the construction industry because of their sex."

In the organization's early years, it focused on teaching women trades and technology skill sets.

"Now we're focusing on increasing awareness to high school girls of the opportunities available in the construction industry for women," Barnes said.

"The women instructors are quite a bit younger than the earlier generation; most of them are still in their 20s."

In addition to its programming, YWITT offers financial support to Yukon women apprentices through a bi-annual bursary and opportunities to instruct young girls and women.

YWITT serves many remote communities, most of which are First Nations, in the Yukon. They have different languages and cultures and there are great disparities in wealth and resources.

"I spend a lot of time on the road," said Barnes. "I make a point to get out of Whitehorse at least once per quarter."

YWITT is a small but efficient organization that has learned how to do a lot with few resources.

"We have only two people in the office plus a handful of instructors whom we call on for our programs," said Barnes.

YWITT is funded largely by the Yukon Government Community Training Fund and the Women's Equality Fund. The organization's Strategic Plan 2014-17 is being reviewed; a new version will be published in the fall of 2017.

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