$3,303,000 in Funding for Women Entering Trades

Lynsey Kitching

Lori Houle having graduated from a trades program as a welder's helper stands with her mentor Kirk Stewart from Flint Energy.
There has never been a better time than the present for under-represented groups in the trades, especially in Northeastern BC. Over the last month the provincial government along with partners, have announced the release of millions of dollars in funding, grants and bursaries to women, natives and immigrants to help them gain the training and resources to work in a trade.
The reason for this push is labour demands. Due to a forecasted one million jobs that will be opening up in the next decade caused by an aging workforce and economic growth, many organizations such as the Industry Training Authority (ITA) are hoping to fill these jobs with trained-skilled workers. According to the recent BC Trade Occupations Outlook, BC can expect to experience a skilled labour shortage of at least 160,000 by 2015.
“The ITA Women in Trades Training (WITT) initiative will receive $3,303,000 in funding in 2012 to 2013. The Initiative will fund 425 women to access trades training programs, complete essential skills and upgrading and receive financial support for childcare, transportation, work gear, tools and equipment,” says Erin Johnston, Labour Supply Initiatives Manager for the ITA. She continues, “There is a lack of awareness about the trades as a viable career path for women, and a lack of role models for women to look up to. We promote mentorship and raise awareness about women in the trades. About 10 percent of the apprentices in the province are women. That’s not a great representation. One thing we really promote in the program is trying to get more women aware that a trade would be a really good career choice.”
For women in Tumbler Ridge, there are oodles of options out there in terms of trades work. However, according to the BC Labour Market Outlook 2010 – 2012, the three highest in-demand occupations for this area are Heavy Equipment Operators, Machinery and Transport Mechanics, and Carpenters/Cabinet Makers. 
A great example of a woman who has found her career in a trade, specifically welding, is Lori Houle, who now lives in Fort St. John. Having been a stay-at-home mom she decided to further her own education once her son was grown. Houle visited the Saulteau First Nations’ Muskoti Learning Center and learned about the ‘Bridging to the Trades’ program offered by the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology’s Mobile Trades Training Unit. Through the program, Houle got exposure to welding, millwright, electrical and the piping trades. She completed the program and went on to get a job with Flint Energy in Fort St. John. After completing the program, she said, “It’s changed my life, big time. Now I know that whatever I set my mind to, I can do it.”
The WITT initiative helps women who are unemployed, or employed in a low-income job, learn the skills needed to start their career in a trade by connecting them with funded training opportunities across BC.
 “There are some provincial organizations that have a foot-print across the province. One is the BC Construction Association. If there was a woman in Tumbler Ridge, they could contact this organization and tell them what kind of career path they would like in the trades. They would see if there’s a fit between their interests and some of the training programs out there,” says Johnston.
The Women in Trades Training Initiative, funded by the Canada–BC Labour Market Agreement, is working with community partners in their quest to even out the playing field for under represented groups in the trades. For women, there are some unique barriers. Johnston says, “The costs associated with tuition, tools and equipment, daycare and transportation can all be prohibitive for some women considering a career in the trades. We provide funding to help overcome some of these barriers depending on individual needs. We’ve seen sometimes women complete their training but don’t have the funds to get the tools and equipment.”
Though these barriers exist, if a woman was able to break through them, there are some very enticing benefits on the horizon. Johnson says, “There are huge advantages, and I’ve certainly seen this from some of the women we’ve profiled. The average wage of a trades worker is double that of retail,” she continues, “Skilled trades people are in demand and there’s a shortage of skilled workers, which means jobs and great opportunities for women with trades training, skills and certification. Tradeswomen report high levels of job satisfaction and increased confidence.”
The Women in Trades Training Initiative connects women to trades opportunities across BC through partnerships with training providers, unions and industry associations. Service Providers selected through a competitive bid process, deliver training programs across the province. 
Within the Northeast, the following Service Providers will be delivering training: UA Piping Industry College’s (UAPIC) is offering an exploratory program in Fort St. John for individuals interested in careers in the piping and construction trades. This program will start in November 2012 and applications are currently being accepted; the North East Native Advancing Society (NENAS) in Fort St. John has partnered with Northern Lights College to deliver programs in the Northeast, and finally the BCCA-STEP (Skilled Trades Employment Program) for Women is a provincial program geared towards matching trades employers with women who want to start a career in the trades. Johnston says, “Many of our Women in Trades Training programs have focused on piping, welding and carpentry but we have seen success in a wide range of trades, from Heavy Equipment Operators to aerospace and horticulture. The sky is the limit.”