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Diversifying Canada's Skilled Trades

Crafting New Narratives: Women’s Success in the Skilled Trades

Learn more about Skills Ontario’s efforts through their Young Women’s Initiatives program that provides experiential, mentor-led learning opportunities for young women across the province.

Helping young women explore career opportunities in the skilled trades is the heart of the Young Women’s Initiatives program at Skills Ontario. Started in 2000, the Young Women’s Initiatives program provides experiential, mentor-led learning opportunities to youth across Ontario to learn about the trades and ask questions about these career paths that were once considered untraditional for women.  The YWI program hosts events throughout the year, like Skilled Trade & Tech Days for female students in grades 7 to 12, parent/guardian information events hosted in partnership with local colleges, and the Young Women’s Conference, the largest conference in Canada for young women in conjunction with the Skills Ontario Competition every May, with over 2,000 participants. On March 7, the YWI program will host its first ever in-person celebration event for International Women’s Day in Guelph.


Brittany R

First Nations, Métis, & Inuit (FNMI) Program Manager
The skilled trades is an industry that’s long been associated with various stereotypes – what can trades organizations do to break down stereotypes and advance and support minority groups in the industry?

Thankfully, the skilled trades shortage is causing companies to look outside of the stereotypical worker to meet their needs. There is more diversity of workers in frontline positions now than there has ever been. The next steps would be to include diversity in the upper levels of management so that the benefits of diversity are seen throughout the whole organisation. New ways of thinking only cause growth.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the skilled trades?

In a past career, I was invited by the Royal Canadian Navy to learn about the need for skilled trades people in the military. During the week in Halifax, we toured maintenance facilities where we learned that most of the position were civilian positions. I remember just being completely in awe seeing welders repairing the hull of a submarine. When I was laid off from that position, I spent six months looking for work until one day I was leaving an interview and decided that I wanted to change my career. I went to an employment center and signed up for Second Careers (now Better Jobs) but because I had an undergraduate degree, I was told I would have to pick an in-demand career – namely a skilled trade. Instantly, I thought about those welders and excitedly realized that I could be just like them and work on large equipment that some people would never get the chance the see! I completed an accelerated welding program and was quickly hired to weld large mining equipment within three days of graduating.

How have the skilled trades impacted your life outside of the workplace? 

Before working in a skilled trade, I felt helpless. I felt like I had to rely on other people whenever I needed to repair something in my home or on my car. After becoming a welder, I gained the confidence to try just about anything. The knowledge and skills I gained working in my career are things that I can apply to everyday life.

What is the biggest barrier to entry you experienced in your field and how did you overcome it?

Weirdly enough, having an undergraduate degree seemed to scare some employers. I remember one manager in an interview saying that I was “too smart to be just a welder” and he was worried I wouldn’t stay in the position. I explained that my undergraduate degree gave me many of the soft skills employers wanted and helped me be a better welder. I didn’t get that position, but I was hired within a couple days by a company that believed it was as well.

How can organizations better welcome their workers that are part of minority groups?

Women, newcomers, Indigenous people, people of colour, people with exceptionalities – everyone comes with their own skills and abilities. By ensuring you have a solid onboarding process, performance reviews, and by providing career development training – every employee would benefit and in turn make managing your daily operations far easier. 

What is your biggest piece of advice you’d give to minority groups looking to start a career in the trades?

Don’t forget about the soft skills and make sure you can highlight them in an interview. There are tons of people that can complete training programs but it’s the soft skills that make you a great employee.

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