Canada's Condominium Magazine

Canada’s skills gap is good news—for women

There are far too few women working in the skilled construction trades in Canada, and a new national program called Journeyman aims to correct that. The new organization represents each of  Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU) and their affiliates. Their mandate is to mentor aspiring new trades workers and to promote the increased presence of women in the trades. For an industry facing a massive labour shortage, it makes sense to tap into the huge resource that women represent.

The fact that the program is called Journeyman shows, in an ironic sort of way, what women are up against. The term “journeyman” is an old one, going back to the middle ages of Europe. It described a man who was free to sell his skilled labour by the day. The women behind this new venture give a sly acknowledgement of the inherent sexism of the term by replacing the letter ‘o’ with the feminine symbol on their website.

According to that website, women make up only 4 per cent of the construction trades workforce today. But the looming shortage of skilled workers, as tens of thousands of mostly male workers prepare to retire, is seen as potentially good news for the women. Why shouldn’t women help to fill that gap?

Women have the ability to change the template, the workplace and the norm. They add the dimension of brains and a fresh way of looking at things, and that is required.

Robert Blakely, CBTU

Jamie McMillan, an ironworker and the founder of Journeyman, says that the female symbol in the organization’s name represents their belief that “skill, not gender” is what determines a journeyman’s status. Journeymen can be male or female, and those behind the new Journeyman initiative insist that they should be treated as equals.

The challenge—or opportunity—is huge. Women are “drastically underrepresented” in the trades, where 97 per cent of the workforce is male. McMillan said in an interview with Career Options that one of the main reasons for the small numbers of women in the trades was poor education in the past. Schools didn’t offer women the “programs, incentives and information” about non-traditional career paths, so women didn’t consider the male-dominated construction industry.

But times are changing, McMillan believes, and more women will become skilled trade workers. “The more we get into schools, programs, and educate young women through mentorship, the more they will see the many incredible career paths they can pursue in the skilled trades.”

She points out that there are fourteen affiliated building trades unions in Canada and over sixty apprenticeships within them. Journeyman wages range from $35 to $45 per hour, and the work is there to be had from coast to coast. “It sells itself,” said McMillan.

[colorbox title=”Who are the ironworkers and what do they do?” color=”#333333″]

The International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers is an international association dating back to 1896 and representing 120,000 workers in Canada and the US. This union represents six distinct trades

Ornamental ironworker

Ornamental ironworkers install metal windows, erect curtain and window wall systems and install and erect metal stairways, catwalks, gratings, doors, railings, fencing, elevator fronts and building entrances.

Rebar installer

Rebar Installers fabricate and place steel bars (rebar) in concrete forms to reinforce structures. They also install post-tensioning tendons (cables) in concrete forms and use hydraulic jacks and pumps to stress the tendons after the concrete is poured and hardened.

Rigger

Riggers employ equipment such as power hoists, cranes, derricks, forklifts and aerial lifts, often using chain, cable, fibre line and associated tackle, to lift and move heavy loads over short distances. They load, unload, move and set up machinery, and install structural steel and curtain walls.

Steel erector

Steel erectors fabricate, construct and join scaffolding, erect pre-engineered buildings and sometimes perform reconstructive work on existing structures.

Steel plate fabricator

Steel plate fabricators create, assemble, fit and install steel or other metal construction components.

Welder

Welders use equipment that produces intense heat to cut metal pieces or melt and fuse them together. They work with iron, steel or other metals to fabricate pipes, boilers, tanks and a wide range of construction and manufacturing components. Welding specialties include pipeline and structural steel construction, and machinery and equipment repair. Welders are employed on residential, commercial, industrial and civil engineering projects. [/colorbox]

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