Burlington, ON — As Ontario struggles to find a solution to a labour shortage that will require an estimated 40,000 skilled workers over the next decade, stigma blocks a potential workforce that could play a large part in rectifying the problem.
The historical and misguided public perception that the skilled trades are the domain of big, brawny, handy men has resulted in a dearth of women in the trades, but it is past time to break down those barriers, says Tammy Evans, president of the Canadian Association of Women in Construction.
“We have unemployed and underemployed women who are a natural resource for entering the skilled trades,” says Evans, who will be at Future Building 2014, a trade show, in an effort to reach the next generation of potential tradeswomen.
“Events like Future Building are a great opportunity to educate the public and really push the discussion to ask why not? Why not open the door to a woman in the skilled trades? Why not consider investing in training, hiring and promoting women in trades as a viable, home-grown, economic advantage to address the current and future shortage of skilled trades?”
Future Building, a partnership of the Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS) and Employment Ontario, is a three-day interactive trade expo geared towards students in Grades 7-12, showcasing the various skilled trades in the industrial, commercial and institutional construction sector, including masons, plumbers, glaziers, carpenters, ironworkers, steamfitters and sheet metal workers.
This year’s show will take place April 8-10 at the Mainway Recreation Centre in Burlington.
“The unionized construction sector has been actively working to increase the number of women in the skilled trades, and we expect we will see a lot of young women touring the show floor at Future Building,” says Sean Strickland, chief executive officer of the OCS. “Technology has changed the needs of the skilled workforce. The opportunities in the construction trades are open to everybody. We need to talk about that, recognize it and promote it.”
An event like Future Building is necessary because the past two generations of students have been drilled that university is the only path to a career, says Evans.
“We have this perception of trades as not being for smart people, but that in fact is not true,” she says.
“Skilled tradespeople are intelligent, professionally-trained workers. We need to elevate that profile. In the current market, a university graduate with a general arts degree, if they can find a job in their chosen field, should realistically expect a starting salary in the $40,000 to $50,000 range at best. They are unlikely to be above $50,000 to start. A first-year journeyperson coming out of trade school (depending on the particular trade) will likely earn between $60,000 and $70,000, and has the potential to earn a six-figure income within five years.”
The OCS was formed in 1993 as a joint labour/management organization representing 25 unionized construction trades and their contractor partners in Ontario’s industrial, commercial and institutional construction sector. The OCS is an organization that undertakes research that enhances the well being of the industry, and provides advice and guidance on public policy matters related to the industry.
For more information, visit www.iciconstruction.com.