Women in Trades comes north

by Phil Ambroziak

It’s no longer a man’s world, at least not as far as a career in the trades is concerned.

This was the message shared with female students at Twin Lakes Community High School in Buffalo Narrows Oct. 29 and 30 when they attended two days of activity-based career sessions courtesy of Saskatchewan Women in Trades and Technology (SaskWITT). Introduced close to 20 years ago, SaskWITT is a volunteer provincial organization that encourages and assists in the successful employment of women in predominantly-male trades, technology and operations occupations. Its partners include SIAST and Skills Canada.

“We’re all about opening doors for girls and women,” explained SaskWITT trades consultant Valerie Overend.

In spite of SaskWITT’s ongoing efforts, statistics show only two per cent of people working in trades in Saskatchewan in 1970 were women. This figure was the same in 2000 – 30 years later.

“In that same period of time, the percentage of women doctors, lawyers and dentists went from five per cent to 35 per cent,” Overend said.

She went on to note, however, things are beginning to look somewhat brighter. In 2006, the percentage of tradeswomen in the province was up to 3.7 per cent.

“We’re hoping this figure continues to rise – we just don’t know yet,” she said.

This low percentage, however, is not the result of women having little to no interest in a trades career.

“It’s a supply and demand thing,” Overend said. “We’ve been very successful on the supply side by  prepping women, providing them with information and introductory courses. It’s the demand side where there are some barriers. Employers haven’t been overly willing to hire women because they don’t always think it’s the best environment for them. Those who do seek a trades career know they are working against the odds.”

The determination exhibited by women, Overend said, plays a big part in SaskWITT’s reasoning for continuing with its Women in Trades initiative.

“Why do we keep preparing them when it’s tough for them to find a job? Because they want to do it,” she said. “The girls want to get into the trades. They want well-paying jobs and to be able to build something and receive that satisfaction at the end of the day.”

As part of SaskWITT’s recent northern tour, a series of tradeswomen also took part in an effort to share their experiences and provide the students with firsthand accounts of where their respective careers have taken them.

“It’s not uncommon for us to spend five or six hours with young women and for them to uncover something they feel could work for them,” Overend, a carpenter of 30 years, explained. “A lot of young women don’t realize they have an interest in something like this until it is presented to them as an option.”

This is exactly how Twin Lakes Grade 10 student Katie Aubichon felt when she attended the Women in Trades session last week.

“When I first went there, I was not sure what to expect,” Aubichon said. “As soon as I got into it, I realized it’s not just men can get into trades. It was very interesting.”

Aubichon concluded by saying the session helped her understand she doesn’t necessarily have to become a doctor or a nurse to have a good job.

“It really inspired me to check out the trades and showed me I have a choice to go out there one day and become whatever I want,” she said.

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