Can women succeed in the skilled trades?

Newcomers to Canada often face multiple challenges when it comes to finding work. For many newcomers, the challenge hinges on red tape – credentials may not be recognized in Canada, or work visas may be denied. When Cornelia Lindsay came to Canada from England, she had problems finding work in her field, but those problems may have been the opportunity she was looking for.

Before coming to Canada, Lindsay trained as a speech and language therapist. But her ability to find work was hampered by the immigration process, and her license expired.

“I ended up getting a job at the hospital doing specialized diets,” she explained, “but that’s not what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

She heard about a program offered by the Ontario government that funds women who want to train for a skilled trade. For newcomer women like Lindsay, who have to re-train for a new career, these programs are a huge benefit.

A career in the skilled trades may not be the traditional choice for women, but it is the perfect fit for those who enjoy being hands-on, putting things together, being physically active, and working with new technology.

It’s the ideal career for women with technical know-how and a passion for the work.

“Our facility, The Centre for Skills Development & Training, is funded by the Government of Ontario to deliver a women-only pre-apprenticeship general carpentry program at our site in Burlington,” said Nancy Moore, Manager of Skilled Trades at The Centre. “Women bring more than technical skills to the job—they bring attention to detail, teamwork and communication skills, and the motivation to prove themselves.

It’s the ideal career for women with technical know-how and a passion for the work.”

Lindsay started her studies at The Centre in May, 2012. “The skills that you get are from the ground up,” she said. “You learn how to use tools in a safe and right way so you are getting really good, all-around training.” She also likes the idea of a career for life and said, “Because I have learned all of these skills, I don’t have to retire at 65. “I can work for myself and for as long as my body allows me to and that feels great – it’s very empowering.”

More and more women are getting involved in the trades. This is good news because Ontario is facing a skilled-trades labour shortage that will have serious consequences for the economy if more trained workers don’t enter the workforce. Newcomers and women can help address this shortage, and find careers with long-term potential at the same time.

The financial benefit of a skilled trades career is significant. The average annual salary for a skilled tradesperson is 25% higher than the average Canadian wage ($50,000 versus $40,000). And according to a study by Industry Canada and Trent University, women who do an apprenticeship in a male-dominated trade tend to have an earnings premium that is greater than that of male apprentices.

Lindsay expected to have to fight against the perception that trades are only for men but she finds people to be supportive. “It’s really exciting when you are talking to other females or males and they are so envious and excited that a woman is getting into this field,” she said. “I haven’t had any males who have anything negative to say – they have all been very positive and encouraging.”

Learn more about women in skilled trades training programs at The Centre’s website or by calling 1-888-315-5521 x121.  

Article by Maria McDonald | Photo by James Heaslip

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