WITT Program Head, Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s WITT program has been dedicated to increasing the number of women in Saskatchewan trades and technology for three decades.
Increasing diversity in the skilled trades and technology sectors is essential both to address the skilled trades gap in today’s workforce and to broaden the diversity of perspectives in these high-demand fields. Encouraging more diverse talent from under-represented groups — including people with disabilities, newcomers to Canada, Indigenous Peoples, women, and visible minorities — to join trades and technology programs also improves Canadian companies’ ability to develop unique solutions to complex problems.
Encouraging and supporting this diverse talent, specifically women, is exactly what Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Women in Trades and Technology (WITT) program has been doing for the past 30 years. While the program has evolved over its long history, its initial goal remains the same: to encourage and assist women interested in trades and technology careers.
“The WITT program works to recruit potential new female students to under-represented careers and also to support them throughout their learning journey,” says Allison Zerr, WITT Program Head, Red Seal and Blue Seal welder, and Red Seal metal fabricator. “We offer award and scholarship information, program-specific tutors, mentorship opportunities, drop-in consultations, networking opportunities, and campus tours. We act as a familiar face on campus for these female students and we’re here for them no matter what they need.”
The WITT program works to recruit potential new female students to non-traditional careers and also to support them throughout their learning journey.
WITT also provides access to education for those looking to enter a trades or technology field, allowing girls and young women to learn about and try a variety of trades, helping prospective students find their areas of interest.
“With our Women in Trades Exploratory programming, we run short courses — generally workshops on weekends or evenings, to reach people who are already working or current high school students — and give them a full day’s exposure to a specific trade or technology,” says Zerr. The workshops give young women the opportunity to learn basic skills in a variety of trades such as carpentry, welding, electrical, or plumbing, and leave them with tangible skills such as framing and erecting a wall, installing a toilet, or wiring an electrical outlet. Trying a variety of trades often piques participants’ interest in a particular area, Zerr notes, and can be the first step that propels them into a fulfilling career.
The value of outreach
Along with the exploratory programming, WITT also offers outreach programming. Since becoming WITT Program Head in May, one of Zerr’s key goals has been to organize more outreach with WITT’s training unit, which hadn’t been used yet due to the pandemic. The mobile training unit is a 4’ x 8’ trailer that’s stocked with the appropriate tools and supplies to take the classroom on the road and deliver remote programming.
“This fall, we partnered with Nutrien and delivered three weekend exploratory workshops to a group of female high school students near one of their mine sites,” says Zerr. “We introduced them to carpentry, automotive, electrical, plumbing, welding, and machining. We delivered exploratory training just like we would on campus, but in a more remote outreach setting.”
Saskatchewan Polytechnic also partnered with Carlton Trail College and BHP this fall to offer pre-apprenticeship trades training for women in Humboldt. The end goal remains the same: opening up valuable opportunities for women in under-represented careers.