Women and Skilled Trades in Ontario

Virginia Woolf, in ‘A Room of One’s Own’ said that let women cease to be the protected sex and they will ‘take part in all the activities and exertions that were once denied to them.’

She would be most happy to listen about Brandi Ferenc who is a refrigeration and air-conditioning systems mechanic in Southern Ontario. She is one of many women who have started showing interest in the skilled trades, once considered a mans industry and dominated by men.

According to national apprenticeship survey by Statistics Canada, only 14 percent of apprentices were women. Even this included traditionally-followed trades like hairstylists and cooks. However, lately, due to shortage of workers in the skilled trades, schools and government are focusing on women as a potential source to fill trades positions.

Leonard Bumbacco, student achievement consultant for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board said that they are “really, really pushing women in the skilled trades.” The Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program is helping to fund school boards in order to promote apprenticeship positions among students.

Despite government efforts, the notion of these jobs as dirty, low paid and monotonous hinders the youth to consider it as a proper career-option. Conestoga College is working to attract more and more people, especially females, to explore career options in the skilled trades like industrial electrician, millwright and heavy equipment operator. Brenda Gilmore, program manager of the school of trades and apprenticeship, is hopeful that more and more women will join the program as she has witnessed a change of perception about women in trades in the last 40 years.

For the outspread of the word, the College conducts work-shops or functions with local schools boards. The annual Jill of All Trades event gives high school girls a chance to explore trades programs, careers and apprenticeships. Jennifer Green is one of the many girls who has benefited from this program. She got her license in 2008 after passing through the three-year apprenticeship course where she was the only female. Now, she stands as role model for many other girls.

On the positive note, girls in the Catholic school board partake in a 200 hour community build class in which they are exposed to different kinds of trades which will aid them in their pursuit of  their future careers.  In one such project at the St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School, in a group of 6 students, 2 were females. Brandi Ferenc regrets not having such a catapulting experience when she was in school. She wonders if “It probably would have made the road a little shorter”.  As for employers seeking to feel positions in demand believe that women working in trades bring something different to the work place.

By Sahil Desai