special news feature | Vancouver regional construction Association
April 12–18, 2016
Ladies, our industry needs you VRCA shines light on opportunities for women in the skilled trades
istorically, women have not had a huge presence in the construction industry. With the exception of the Second World War, when Rosie the Riveter drew countless women into factories to learn trades, women have been largely absent from the construction work site. Given that women’s overall participation in the Canadian workforce is steadily increasing and is currently listed at 47.3%, we hope that change is on the cards for our industry. Within the broader construction industry, women do have an increasing profile. You will find them not only in clerical positions at the head office, but also running companies, designing buildings, managing projects – and leading associations! However,
in all those construction-related occupations, the actual number of women working on the tools is still very low, hovering around 5%. The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum report Women and Apprenticeship in Canada, published in 2016, indicates that women represent only 2.5% of carpentry apprentices in Canada, 2.2% of plumbing apprentices and 1.8% of those involved with heavy equipment. Just 3.3% of electrician apprenticeships are held by women, and 6.3% of welding apprenticeships. While these low numbers are discouraging, they are actually steadily increasing year over year. Trades are traditionally very male-dominated, and any young woman eager to pursue one of the many opportunities that exist in the skilled trades has to be ready to dig deep and lead the way for other young women. They may face discrimination, inadequate facilities, few mentors and unwelcoming workplaces. However, their leadership will not be in vain, as demonstrated by the women profiled in this edition of Construction in Vancouver. With baby boomers retiring and construction activity steady in B.C., accessing an underutilized yet very capable labour source is an appealing solution to many in the
industry. Recognizing this, government, industry associations and training providers are helping break down the existing barriers and hurdles. For example: •The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum has proactively produced a number of excellent papers analyzing the role of women in the trades and promoting the business case for hiring female apprentices. Its tips and strategies for recruiting and retaining women on the job site are particularly useful. See Hiring and Training Women in the Skilled Trades: The Business Case for Employers. •The B.C. Industry Training Authority is eager to open doors for women. Its Women in Trades Training programs are focused on providing much-needed support to women interested in entering apprenticeships. The initiative funds seven different programs that collectively raise awareness, provide training, assist in finding jobs and help mentor women through the challenges they inevitably face. •B.C.’s colleges have been very proactive in supporting women. The British Columbia Institute of Technology, for example, has been successfully offering a Trades Discovery program
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for women for many years. The program introduces women to a variety of trades and gives them the confidence and skills to pursue a career in the industry. Perhaps the greatest challenge for a woman trying to enter into the trades, however, is finding that first job that can lead to an apprenticeship. However, once she gets that chance and can show her abilities, the prevailing attitude of the industry is a practical one – if you can do the job, we want you on it. Finding that first job is a critical step in the path to success and is an area where industry associations have stepped in to help. The Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA) has been a long-term partner with the BC Construction Association’s Skilled Trades Employment Program (STEP). STEP has spent over a decade working to connect members of many underutilized groups – not least of whom have been women – with construction employment that leads to apprenticeships that have cleared a path to rewarding and lucrative careers. Support groups and mentoring programs also help women enter and ultimately stay in the industry. The Vancouver-based
Canadian Construction Women has been developing a women’s network since 1981. Organizations like the Women’s Enterprise Centre also have a number of robust programs that support women in the industry. Not enough women have yet entered the trades to make a significant difference to the construction workplace. However, the participation of women across all occupations in the industry is steadily increasing. At last count, Statistics Canada listed the percentage of women in all construction occupations at just over 11%. Research has indicated that cultural change is more likely to happen when participation rates top 15%. We are therefore approaching a tipping point in the industry. It will no doubt take many years before construction sites are filled with women. However, the trend is established and VRCA and its partners are committed to help pave the way for the Rosie the Riveters of the 21st century. • Fiona Famulak is president of the Vancouver Regional Construction Association, the largest regional construction association in B.C., which represents more than 700 member companies.
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