Why women could be the answer to Canada’s skilled trades shortage

Skilled Trades College

Alisha Kelloway spent years working in retail before she finally took the plunge and signed up for the 12-week electrical pre-apprenticeship program at Ontario’s Skilled Trades College of Canada in her mid-twenties.

There, despite having no prior knowledge of the trade, she finished at the top of her male-dominated class and landed a job on graduation day.

Since then, Kelloway, now a third-term electrical apprentice in Toronto, has parlayed that first job into an opportunity at a larger company where there’s more room for growth. She feels like she finally has a career doing something she loves — and hasn’t had to go into debt to get there.

Kelloway’s story speaks to the current demand for skilled tradespeople, but it also highlights the need for more women in the field.

In partnership with the Skilled Trades College of Canada, we take a look at how women may be the answer to Canada’s shortage of skilled trades.

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“People are open-minded…. They see that I’m interested in learning and I’m very capable of that, and they see how excited I am to be there, so they want to teach me more things.”

Filling in the gap

Women currently make up 48 per cent of the Canadian workforce, but they only comprise 28 per cent of the manufacturing workforce and roughly four per cent of the skilled trades.

Meanwhile, the need for tradespeople has been climbing steadily, prompting the Ontario government to launch a $2.5-million initiative to boost the province’s skilled workforce.

READ MORE: Ontario invests nearly $1M in London training programs to tackle shortage in skilled trades

Skilled Trades College. Skilled Trades College

“There is absolutely a shortage of skilled trades,” says Mike Di Donato, the college director at Skilled Trades College of Canada. “If you take a drive down in the city and you see how many cranes there are in the sky, it’s never been a busier time.”

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Di Donato says current enrolment at the college, which has campuses in Barrie, Mississauga and Vaughan, Ont., reflects larger industry statistics, with women representing roughly four per cent of the students.

It’s a number the college hopes to increase by offering mentorship programs that connect current students with recent female graduates for support.

“Women bring a different level of organizational skills and attention to detail that their male counterparts sometimes don’t have,” Di Donato says. “Maybe they feel like they’re not going to be welcomed on a job site, but that’s not the case anymore. Those days are long gone.”

READ MORE: From welders to surgeons: The most in-demand jobs for 2020

A solid career choice

Kelloway was the only woman in her class of 15 or so, but she never felt intimidated or unwelcome. She says the college gives students a solid foundation for getting into a trade, whether they’re graduating high school or older and looking for a career change.

“Because it’s so male dominated, if women don’t feel comfortable or confident going into it, I guess they let that keep them from even trying,” she says. “Whereas if they have background knowledge, they won’t have that fear.

“I left knowing what I would be doing in the field. I felt confident going into the site and working right away.”

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Instant work and earning while you learn as an apprentice are just some of the draws to a job in the trades. Di Donato says the work-life balance is equally alluring. Many job sites start early and finish by three p.m., which frees up late afternoons and evenings, and gives employees more flexibility.

Skilled Trades College. Skilled Trades College

Kelloway says that even if she had gone to school for something else, she probably would have come back to this career. She loves the combination of working with her hands and using her brain, and is interested in what she’s able to create.

“People are much more open-minded about women being in the trades; they don’t look at it as something women shouldn’t be doing anymore. My journeymen see that I’m interested in learning and that I’m very capable. They see how excited I am to be there, so they want to teach me more about the trade,” she says.

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“You have a lot of respect going into this as a woman. It’s changed a lot over the years. It’s still a very male-dominated field, but many of the men here have a lot of respect for women who are coming into the trade, and we can do the job just as well — if not better.”

Visit the Skilled Trades College of Canada website to learn more about their hands-on learning experiences.

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