Building Ontario’s future skilled trades workforce

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Angela Coldwell

Special to Ontario Construction Report

According to BuildForce Canada, females compose only five  per cent of on-site skilled trades workers in construction. What may be lesser known is how Skills Ontario is actively working to change this. Hundreds of young women learn about career opportunities during the school year as Skills Ontario hosts regional events throughout the province via their Young Women’s Initiatives. Three conferences in May drew 1700 girls from grades seven through twelve!

They recently partnered with the Waterloo chapter of the Girl Guides of Canada for an evening of building. Sixteen girls in junior high and high school were provided with all the materials needed to wire an electrical receptacle and build a birdhouse. Also included was a starter toolkit for the girls to keep, allowing them to take their newly acquired skills and apply them to future DIY and home projects.

Dee Durant, a KickAss Careers Ambassador and IBEW apprentice, led the electrical activity. She found her love of the skilled trades by chance.

As a high school student her sights were set on pursuing a career studying weather as a meteorologist. But, her parents gave her advice that resulted in her rethinking her future: take a course in a field you never saw yourself pursuing or thought you would enjoy.

Durant took their suggestion and enrolled in a wood working class in grade 12. Working with her hands opened the door to a career pathway she hadn’t previously known about. As an electrical apprentice, she now mentors young women and pays forward the advice she was given. “Volunteering at events like the Skills Ontario Competition and with the Girl Guides means being the change I want to see in the world. It also means helping young people today gain the tools, knowledge, and confidence to be their best selves tomorrow.”

At the age of five, KickAss Careers Ambassador Mira Polski told her parents she wanted to become a carpenter! However, she never met a woman in construction. She knew the career she wanted, but as a 5’2” female she was told that she wouldn’t fit in, nor was she suited for the job. She is now modeling what she didn’t see growing up.

After teaching the girls how to build a birdhouse she shared, “it’s important young girls know that they can just show up as they are. They don’t need to change themselves or become more tough like the guys we associate with construction. You can just be yourself. You are not, or at least should not be, expected to know everything or be super strong – all of that will come! Be patient with yourself.”

Facilitating 20 events between October and May, Lindsay Chester is the Young Women’s Initiatives Program Manager at Skills Ontario. It is not uncommon at the beginning of any session for roughly half of the attendees to be interested in a career in the skilled trades. However, by the end of the experience most of them are hooked.

“Through our programming we aim to create an opportunity for young women to explore and try different activities that hopefully spark their interest in the skilled trades. We provide safe and inclusive environments where young women feel they can try new things, learn new skills, and ultimately discover a passion they may not have known they had. We want them to be confident in knowing that they can do anything they put their minds to.”

KickAss Careers Founder Jamie McMillan echoes this sentiment. “It is extraordinary to witness the confidence of young women skyrocket when they try-a-trade and realize skilled trades are a viable career pathway for them, too. Skilled trades careers are not about gender. They are about ability, passion, and attitude making them a fantastic career option for anyone regardless of how they identify.”

As we approach the start of a new school year, Skills Ontario programs will be in a community near you. LevelUp! career fairs will be returning this fall. Skills Ontario will also be offering programs for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion events, Young Women’s Initiatives events, and the Trades and Tech Truck will be hitting the road.

In addition, kindergarten through grade twelve teachers can request a free in-person or virtual classroom presentation. Download the Skills Ontario app to learn more about up-coming events or take their skilled trades career quiz.

Helping students find a pathway that excites them, while filling our labour shortage, requires students, parents, and teachers to be aware of their career options. Skills Ontario is delivering on their mission as they enable and empower all youth to consider a career in the skilled trades and technologies.

To find out more visit skillsontario.com.

Angela Coldwell is the founder of Honour the Work in Toronto.

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