International Women’s Day: Supporting Women in Skilled Trades

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International Women’s Day: Supporting Women in Skilled Trades

March 8, 2020

Featured guest post by the Office to Advance Women Apprentices Manitoba

As we mark International Women’s Day 2020, it is time to reflect on this year’s theme, Each for Equal. Access to training and employment and the ability to pursue one’s career aspirations without barriers should be afforded to everyone. However, this has not always been the case. In the construction industry, particularly in the non-traditional trades, women account for two to four per cent of the workforce, nationally, and often face barriers to entry and retention.


With programs like the Manitoba Women in Construction’s Unlocking the Toolkit, which provides an opportunity to girls in grades five and six to gain exposure to the trades; the province-wide Skills Canada Manitoba Young Women’s Conferences; and outreach through Build Together Manitoba, more and more girls and young women are giving serious consideration to careers in the trades.

In 2019, Canada’s Building Trades Unions launched the expansion of the Office to Advance Women Apprentices in three provinces: Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Manitoba. With funding through the Federal Government’s Union Training and Innovation Program along with support of Manitoba’s Building Trades Unions, the Office to Advance Women Apprentices Manitoba is celebrating its first year in operation. In fact, Manitoba is now one of six Office to Advance Women Apprentices in Canada. Based on the highly successful Office to Advance Women Apprentices Newfoundland and Labrador, the Manitoba office now boasts more than 60 tradeswomen who are registered and actively pursuing careers in underrepresented trades. The Office offers wraparound services to tradeswomen or those looking to pursue a career in the trades to better their chances of success.

Andrea Canada, the Project Coordinator for the Manitoba Office says that their clients are keen and eager to make their mark in their respective trade. “Whether they are carpenters, ironworkers, welders or plumbers, we have women who are at both ends the spectrum: some are just beginning to explore the trades while others are seasoned journeypersons excelling in their careers.”

According to Canada, the biggest challenge is securing employment for clients, which is essential to a successful apprenticeship. She is actively seeking out employers who are interested in diversifying their workforce and promoting the inclusion of tradeswomen. One positive partnership that the Office has is with Manitoba Hydro. The Corporation has recently launched its first Women in Trades Pre-Placement Programs for the Power Electrician and Powerline Technician trades. “We were able to refer several women who have applied to the Hydro programs; we are very excited at the prospect of their success with the utility,” said Canada.

Rhonda McDougal, a first level electrical apprentice who has graduated from the Electrical Applications program at Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology is a client of the Office. Like many tradeswomen, Rhonda had pursued other careers but was intrigued by the idea of pursuing a career in the trades. What I like about working in this trade is that there is so much variety; I’ll never feel stuck doing the same thing over and over.  I could go from doing exterior work, to wiring a new build, to utilities work, or into manufacturing and installation. In this job, I know exactly what I accomplished. This is a great feeling.”

While McDougal remains optimistic about her future as an electrician, it can be disheartening at times to have the skills, credentials and desire to work, yet face challenges in getting your foot in the door with an employer.

This is where the Office to Advance Women Apprentices can come in and assist women like McDougal. Hearing about the Office at the Manitoba Hydro Hands-on Days for Women, McDougal recalls, “I registered right away. Every day they are reaching out to employers and building new connections.  The Office communicates new opportunities through the monthly networking events they host. These are wonderful events that bring experienced trades women and the apprentices together to share experiences, ideas, and job information.”

According to Canada, McDougal has become one of the Office’s regular participants at events and networking sessions, as she is passionate about also helping other tradeswomen be successful.

As the Office to Advance Women Apprentices Manitoba continues to grow its client base and partner with educational institutions, employers, unions and supporting organizations, it is well on its way to reaching its goal to be the hub for women in trades in the province of Manitoba.

For more information please contact:

Andrea Canada

Project Coordinator

Office to Advance Women Apprentices Manitoba