More women in skilled trades is a win-win

Published: 28/09/2014

We can’t agree more with Marcia!
Australia has started having an award for women in trades amongst other women in mining award categories which has helped raise awareness for the issue


OPINION – Special to The Globe and Mail, Published Monday, Jul. 14 2014Marcia Smith was appointed Senior Vice President, Sustainability and External Affairs of Teck in January 2012. She joined Teck in 2010 as Vice President, Corporate Affairs.

Much has been written, and much discussion has followed, about the need to increase the number of women on boards of directors and at senior levels of management in Canadian companies. While this is an important topic, another opportunity related to women in the workplace has received far less attention, yet has the power to truly change women’s lives for the better – lots of women’s lives.

That opportunity is increasing the number of women employed in the skilled trades. At a time when skilled trades – defined broadly as an occupation that requires specialized skills and knowledge, and apprenticeship training and certification – are more in demand than ever, we have the opportunity to help women substantially improve their standard of living.

While women are fairly well-represented in a few service-sector trades – florists and hair stylists, for example – they are seriously underrepresented in trades such as electricians, heavy-duty mechanics, welders and millwrights, to name a few. The gender mix in skilled trades continues to be highly unbalanced. In fact, men accounted for 93.4 per cent of all trades workers in 2011, with this proportion not having changed materially over the past two decades.

When you marry this with the fact that Canada’s labour market already suffers from an acute shortage of skilled workers – a recent report by CIBC suggested as much as one-fifth of the labour market does not have enough qualified workers – we have a significant opportunity to increase women’s participation in trades and, by extension, their wages. In the sector I work in, mining, it is expected that we will need to find 81,000 new workers over the next decade as many in the industry head toward retirement.

Considering that the average salary and benefits for someone working in B.C.’s mining industry in 2013 was $114,600, one wonders why more women are not pursuing these jobs. Particularly when you compare, for example, an electrician’s average hourly wage of $34 to that of a florist, whose typical hourly wage is approximately $14.

While women’s overall participation in the work force has increased dramatically over the past number of years, they continue to face low-income conditions. In fact, low-income women in Canada face a larger wage gap with their male counterparts than low-income women in most other OECD countries. Getting more women into skilled trades positions can be part of the solution to changing this equation.

I have two suggestions for how we can make progress. The first is that we put formal targets in place for women in skilled trades. Industry, labour and governments have an important role to play in this. The second is that we start having the discussion about getting women into skilled trades much more broadly. It needs more attention on the national policy discussion stage. Parents need to see a future of possibilities for their daughters that includes jobs such as carpenters, electricians and industrial mechanics. Our educators and career counsellors need to promote these jobs as viable career options for women.

I have had the privilege of meeting skilled trades’ women working in our company and I’ve asked about the barriers to entering these roles. There are not many that they cite, other than a general lack of awareness about the opportunities and a lack of role models. The women in these jobs may be small in number today, but they are powerful in the message they send to others. They can become the role models for other women coming behind them and when more girls in high schools can see themselves in a skilled trade, we will see participation rates increase and women will reap the benefits these careers offer.

Marcia Smith is senior vice-president, sustainability and external affairs, with Teck Resources Ltd. She has global responsibility for the company for safety, environment, sustainability, community and government relations and communications.
Ms. Smith represents Teck, along with CEO Don Lindsay, at the International Council on Mining and Metals and with the World Economic Forum. She serves on the boards of the Mining Association of Canada and the Business Council of British Columbia.

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 Gemma Hartwig, female apprentice of the year wants more women in trades

Mining Australia, 24 September, 2014 comments

 Queensland’s school-based apprentice of the year winner says she is happy to break out of stereotypical gender roles.

Gemma Hartwig, an apprentice diesel fitter with Ostwald Bros, won the mantle at the Queensland Training Awards.

Hartwig is completing a Certificate 3 in Engineering (Diesel Fitting) while finishing her final year at Our Lady of the Southern Cross College in Dalby.

Hartiwg said that being a female in a male-dominated sector has not been an issue, The Chronicle reported.

“I’m a big advocate for women doing anything; we’re different but we’re equal,” she said. “Since working with Ostwald Bros they’ve made no concessions for my gender and I like that.”

Hartwig said she tries to encourage other young women to consider undertaking an apprenticeship. “I’m passionate about my work; I love talking about it. “I enjoy the fact that I’m breaking out of stereotypical gender roles and tackling something different. “I’m really happy that I’ve won. I want to excel; I want to be an advocate for women working in this field.”

Ostwald Bros Group plant manager Brian Ostwald said Hartwig had demonstrated a high-level of commitment towards all her responsibilities. “She works well independently and has displayed great persistence when problem solving and working through complex tasks,” he said.

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 Women in Trades – Resources

Teagan Dowler – The Blue Collared Woman
Supporting & empowering women to be confident & influential contributors in the blue collared industries of Australia through education, training and coaching.

Industry Women Central is your first choice platform to all that is offering, happening, engaging, exciting and celebrating in the building, construction, property services industries and beyond.
Providing access to education scholarships, mentor programs, speaking opportunities, award programs, career advancement, board and committee opportunities, participation programs and much more.
Industry women central will focus on increasing attraction, engagement, education, visibility, advancement and promotion for women and non-traditional industries through cross sectors partnerships.

Women and Manual Trades
The national organisation for tradeswomen and women training in the trades
WAMT has been championing tradeswomen for 30 years through campaigning and training