N.B. trades competition sees most female competitors ever
The NBCC campus in Saint John played home to the 2019 Skills Canada New Brunswick provincial trades competition Friday, as more than 200 students looked to earn their spot in nationals next month.
With middle and high school students on hand to take in the action, the competition gives youngsters an up-close look at the skilled trades.
“We do this to really showcase some of the trades. Unless you have a family member in the trades, you might not have an idea what some of your options are and there are some amazing careers in the trades,” said Courtney Donovan, Skills Canada’s New Brunswick communications coordinator.
“So we bring in about a thousand school kids today from middle school and high school. They’ll get a chance to look at the competition, you know, get to really see what steel fabrication or a steamfitter, pipefitter might do and then it ends with them coming through a try a trade event, so they’ll actually get that hands-on experience that they just saw.”
The competition is open to students across the province, with gold medal winners earning their spot on Team New Brunswick, which will represent the province at nationals in Halifax in May.
NBCC Dean of Trades, Catherine Black, says the event showcases skilled trades to a diverse slate of people, some of whom might be outside the traditional demographics that often pursue a career in trades.
Black says that with female trade participation at a lowly four per cent in the province — and the pressing need to replace a rapidly-aging workforce — opening the door for everyone in increasingly important.
“One hundred thousand people in the next 10 years are going need to be replaced and a lot of them in the skilled trades. So we need everybody to participate, whether that is women, Indigenous persons or people with disabilities. We want to make sure that everybody knows that this is a great career option,” she said.
This year, 13 women are competing in provincials — the most ever.
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One of those 13 is Olivia McCarthy, who came fourth last year in autobody. McCarthy says her whole family works in trades as plumbers or carpenters, but wanting to do something different, she’s spent the last couple years learning welding and auto body. This year, she is about to complete training to be an automotive technician.
McCarthy says it’s unfortunate that more women aren’t involved in the trades.
“Women kind of get pushed out a lot due to the fact that a lot of men think they’re not strong enough to do it. I mean women can carry around a kid that weighs more than a bag of concrete, so I mean, why not?” she said.
Former bricklaying national champion Ashley Ritchie knows the barriers women in trades face all too well.
“I was really just discouraged from pursuing trades. So I had graduated top of my class in Grade 12 for woodworking. I was never [encouraged] to go that route,” she said.
“I wasted time going to university and then finally I just decided I’d had enough of that. I decided that’s it, I’m going to pursue a skilled trade, that’s what I’m passionate about and it was the best decision I ever could have made.”
Ritchie works with New Boots, an organization committed to mentoring young women in trades, and says she hopes to make trades competitive with university degrees for women coming out of high school.
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