Industrial Mechanic Millwright & Director of Competitions at Skills Ontario
Mediaplanet sat down with Jennifer Green, Director of Competitions at Skills Ontario, to discuss the barriers faced by women in trades, how to overcome those barriers, and what can be done within the industry to diversify trades.
What sparked your interest in pursuing a career in the trades?
Almost 20 years ago I started in high school and was originally going into forensic criminology, fast-tracking my courses to apply early to university. My father is a Tool and Die Maker, and his father before that. But going into the trades was never forecasted or shown to be an option for me. I was an A+ student and pushed in another direction. I had always taken technology. However, as I enjoyed the skill sets and am a visual, hands-on learner, I still had not considered it for a career. In Grade 10, the teacher noted it was the last day to sign up for co-operative education, and I didn’t know what it was. I learned more about the program and decided to “take a break” from university studies and choose a tech co-op. I read the local college course guide of Conestoga College and went through the description of all the skilled trades they offered. Industrial Mechanic Millwright sounded just like me. So I tried it! I ended up changing all my courses in Grade 11 as I thoroughly enjoyed and changed my career course. I became a signed apprentice as a Grade 12 student, earning hours toward my apprenticeship as I enrolled in the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program — OYAP. After graduating, I started my first official year of apprenticeship and earned my Red Seal license by age 21.
What has been the biggest barrier you’ve had to face as a woman in trades, and how did you overcome it?
An out-of-date attitude of those who could be around you. The dreaded stereotype. Working with people you enjoy makes your career as pleasant as enjoying the work itself, but when those around you treat you differently, it can make you no longer want to go to work every day or change your mindset about the skill itself.
Finding mentors and supporters in and outside of work are essential! It made me want to be an advocate, a speaker, and a mentor because I didn’t have one when I started and struggled with how I was treated differently and some of the situations that arose. By constantly standing up, raising my hand, and gaining a loud voice, I grew my momentum and the ability to empower others with my experiences, where they could learn and grow from. By being a voice when there were not many when I started, I created various opportunities to offer a lending ear and provide advice and suggestions for their own successful skilled trades path.
Given the lack of diversity in trades, what would you say needs to be done to advance the presence of minority groups like women?
Retention is just as important as recruitment in making sure that there are wrap-around services. Such as, any training acquired for those in recruitment or a program is not only provided to those involved but also to those they will be working with on a day-to-day basis. Who, in some cases, have had no prior exposure. Wrap-around supports must be in place at all stages and levels, including zero-tolerance policies for harassment, adequate restroom facilities, and personal protective equipment — PPE. The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) just released the report Canadian Women’s Experiences with Personal Protective Equipment in the Workplace based on survey results of nearly 3000 Canadian women.
The most common problems Canadian women face with their PPE:
- It doesn’t fit properly (50%).
- It’s uncomfortable to wear (43%).
- Selection of women-specific PPE is inadequate (35%).
Women are also having to modify or alter their PPE to make them fit (38%). Women need to feel comfortable entering the workplace in these careers and others, and without adequate supports in place, it creates barriers. Many companies, however, and new brands are bringing new styles, unique offerings, and multiple options to the PPE field to help combat this issue. Multiple women’s PPE advocates are also shining a bright light and constantly keeping the subject forefront on social media, including reviews and suggestions on multiple types of PPE and work wear.
What advice do you want to share with Canadians from diverse backgrounds looking to pursue an education or career in the trades?
Learn as much as you can, ask questions about anything you’re unsure of, and make yourself unique in the knowledge you know that you stand out above the rest. You’re already going to stand out for being under-represented, so why not stand out even more and make sure that you are never missed, always seen, and heard. Bring so much to the table and continue to grow that you’re a valuable asset that can’t be overlooked.