Three generations have passed since large numbers of women were employed in what were formerly considered mens’ occupations. The Second World War made it necessary for our grandmothers to become factory workers, welders, riggers, pilots, plumbers and drivers. Even the current Queen of England put on a pair of coveralls and learned to be a truck mechanic.
Fast forward to today, where there is an acute shortage of skilled tradespeople, as the existing skilled workforce ages, and until recently our educations system did not promote trades.
Here are some facts to consider about the status of skilled trades in Canada.
- An estimated 300,000 new trades workers will be needed in the next decade to meet the growing demand
- There are 300 occupations in Ontario that need apprentices
- 13 percent of the construction workforce is female and less than 5 percent of skilled trades are women. There are about 35,000 women in skilled trades in Canada but the number has grown very slowly
- For those women who are in skilled trades, 85 percent say they would recommend such a career to other women.
As more and more skilled trades employers realize that women are essential to filling the labour shortage, a number of organizations have sprung up to help women make the transition into skilled trades. One of them is Ontario Building & Construction Tradeswomen (OBCT).
The Bay Observer recently had a chance to discuss women in trades with a spokesperson for OBCT.
To support women and families, many trades associations offer benefits and financial assistance during pregnancy, parental leave, and return to work. The UA (Union of Plumbers, Steamfitters, Sprinkler Fitters, Welders, and HVAC Mechanics) offers its members who qualify, extended maternity leaves, financial support to help care for their newborn during their first year of life, and paid time off for members who are pregnant while working in the trades (as pregnancy progresses it may become difficult to continue working in particular environments associated with construction such as being in high elevation). And recently, the Government of Ontario also expanded its Skills Development Fund to include subsidized childcare support for trades workers. For more information on opportunities for women in skilled trades visit OBCT.