Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Career Possibilities for Women in the Building and Construction Trades

We would like to thank Possibilities for including us in the article which brings more awareness to women about the opportunities in the trades. This is especially important in an economic climate where jobs become more scarce. Then it is more easy to be discouraged to enter a non-traditional career. Hence we need more encouragement not less.

Martina Ernst
Wo-Built Inc.

Breaking Stereotypes, Building Houses

January 2009

A woman on a construction site may still be considered a novel idea but there is room for handywomen in the building trades. If some employers still resist the notion, many recognize that women bring valuable skills to the construction industry.

And although not every woman has the aptitude for working in the skilled trades the provincial government and organizations such as On-Track for Women are encouraging them to at least think about exploring the trades.

"For your own sake, please don't exclude yourself from these careers because they are lucrative or can be lucrative," says Marie Heron, executive director of On-Track, which offers a pre-employment program for women and helps link women to apprenticeships. (Currently On-Track is partnering with Centennial College to offer a free Automotive Service Technician Pre-apprenticeship Program.)

The minute you mention how much money you can potentially make working in the trades On-Track participants "buy in" to the concept, says Heron. Being able to apprentice and earn while you learn is what "really, really, really, really attracts women to the trades."

Still, the number of women in the trades is staggeringly low. According to statistics, women made up only seven per cent of workers in transportation, trades and construction work. And in some of the building trades, such as carpentry, the number drops to one per cent.

"It's a very male-dominated environment that we're trying change," says Colleen McDougall, an assistant instructor with The Centre for Skills Development & Training in Burlington, which offers the Women in Skilled Trade's Enhanced General Carpentry Program.

Sponsored by the Ontario Women's Directorate this 46-week course gives up to 22 women the chance to learn floor, roof and wall systems and partake in work placements.

Women "tend to undermine themselves a little bit," says McDougall, a former analyst who graduated from the program in 2005 along with her sister. She notes that women-only courses allows students to "put all the other stuff aside for the period that they're in school and focus. They get lots of support and they don't feel stupid and they don't feel weak."

Women are very capable at working in construction, but to succeed they have "got to be able to handle the tools and not be afraid of them," says McDougall. Although women considering the field should be fairly physical, McDougall notes that it is "not always about strength." For instance, she points out that women can learn techniques to help them lift heavy construction materials. (And do keep in mind that some female-identified careers, such as nursing, can involve a lot of heavy lifting as well.)

Excelling in Finish Work
Although the course trains women in both rough and finish carpentry, McDougall says that women often excel in finish work, working away at a project until they've mastered it. (Finish work is basically any work that won't be covered up, such as moldings or trim.)

"I think the women are very, very focused on detail," says McDougall. "I do think that they spend more time at it [then men] and maybe sometimes that could be a disadvantage, I guess, but for the most part it's a good thing."

Martina Ernst, chief executive officer of Wo-Built, a women-led construction company thinks those who do finishing work should "have a certain amount of perfectionism." Ernst and Wo-Built's president Elida Huignard are in the process of establishing a women-only training on the finishing trades at the Pre-apprenticeship Training (PAT) Institute. (Finishing trades include finish carpentry, drywall finishing/plastering, painting/decorating, tile setting and floor covering installation.)

Ernst thinks that finishing work is a good fit for women because women are often detail-oriented and the work is not as physically demanding as some other construction jobs. She points out that installing drywall takes a lot of physical strength whereas mudding and taping needs someone who is precise but not necessarily physically strong.

(Last year Ernst participated at a skilled trades forum held at Toronto City Hall. The PAT Institute's Rui Cunha, who also spoke at the forum, noted that women seem to excel at jobs that demand precision and dexterity such as working with network cabling or fibre optics.)

Employment Options
Although "some women are very comfortable working along side of men and swinging a hammer," this is not true for everyone, says McDougall. Luckily, for those who don't fancy the construction site, there are other options for women with knowledge about the construction industry and/or skills. For instance, you could find a job with a supplier or work in such areas as sales, purchasing, cost estimating, or construction site management.

Some women choose the self-employment route, working as a handywoman or renovator, which allows them to use a variety of skills and to have some flexibility with their hours. (According to On-Track's Marie Heron, 39 per cent of women in the skilled trades end up opening up their own business.)

And for those women who do want to work on a construction site, some companies are hiring a more diverse workforce, says McDougall. "There's a lot more women out there now and they're getting recognized," she says. "Initially that was a bit of a problem because they are just not typically seen on a site. That's changing. It's going to take time. We're not there yet, but [it's] definitely changing."
Credit: Possibilities: Toronto Online Employment Recourse Centre

Toronto Craiglist Handy-Woman NeededScreenshot: toronto craigslist: city of toronto: skilled trades jobs: Handy-Women Needed!

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