July 4, 2012
More women in trades needed to help meet labour demands
Today there are 24 men for every woman in the trades and that just is not good enough to handle Canada's looming labour shortage, delegates heard at the recent Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF) conference in Regina, Saskatchewan.
“It’s no longer just a matter of opportunity or social justice, it’s increasingly becoming a matter of economic imperative,” said Kevin Evans, CEO of the Industry Training Authority and member of the CAF board of directors.
At the conference, he moderated a panel discussion on women in the trades.
A simple reason why more women aren’t entering the trades is it is not marketed as a viable career option to them, concluded the panel.
“I think often times it’s marketed to men. They’re expected to be able to do physical work. I think we can do anything as well as men can. Sometimes, we just need a longer wrench,” said Erin Vaughan, a Red Seal automotive service technician, who owns her own company.
This stems from the culture created in high school when students are choosing their classes.
“When I was in high school there were courses available, but only the boys were taking those classes. They had home-ec for the girls and shop for the guys,” said Vaughan.
“They just seemed to steer us in those directions. If we were given the opportunity to take whatever we wanted, instead of pushed in that other direction, then maybe it would have been easier.”
Panelists said female instructors or even guest speakers would go a long way in attracting young women to those classes.
Others said that as the only female on a jobsite, they felt isolation, but added it’s important to connect with other women in the trades.
“Support of other tradeswomen has really been helpful because you are isolated a lot of the time and you don’t get to speak with a lot of women,” said Tracy Bujaczek, a Level 3 welder and a Level 1 pipefitter.
Bujaczek pointed to organizations like Saskatchewan Women in Trades and Technology (SaskWITT) which promotes and assists in the recruitment, training and successful employment of women in predominantly male trades, technology, operations and blue-collar work.
Vaughan said she has never felt isolated, but felt like she had to prove herself every day and prove that she doesn’t need to be coddled.
“If men and women can learn to work together and just respect each other’s differences, then it would be an entirely different world. That goes for any career,” she said.
Another barrier to women entering the trades is a lack of flexibility for pregnant women or women, who have children.
“Flexibility is the main issue for women because we have babies and families. In the trades, you work a lot of long hours and trying to find childcare for a 10 hour shift is pretty hard,” said Bujaczek.
Thanks to pioneering women, the female panelists said workplace culture has changed and women generally know their rights. Although, it would be nice if there was a women’s washroom.
“I would just like to thank the women who were before us because that’s why we’re here. (We’re) able to have this opportunity because of them,” concluded Vaughan.
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