”We Can Do It!”  was the rallying cry for millions of Canadian women who picked up the tools and worked in the skilled trades during World War II. In the decades since, the trades became dominated by men, but that notion is growing old. Slowly, more women are discovering rewarding careers in the trades.

Kathy Choquette is one of them. “After high school, I took business administration and worked in an office, but I hated it,” she says. “I had never considered a career in the trades. But I wanted to be active and move around. So I took an 18-week program for women in the trades.”

Currently working as a foreman on Ottawa’s light rapid transit project, Choquette is glad her path led to a diverse and rewarding career. An electrician of 26 years, she finds a lot of satisfaction helping big projects come together. Her only lament is that more women haven’t joined the trades.

Mentors provide the best tool

Getting more women interested in these diverse and well-paying careers is a priority among industry groups, including the Ontario College of Trades, which is the regulatory body for all 156 trades in Ontario. “When we look at underrepresented groups in the trades, women top the list,” says David Tsubouchi, the College’s Registrar and CEO.

“We need to get the message to young women and their parents that a career in the trades is a great option — something that women should consider.” He adds that one of the best ways to let women know about these exciting careers is to see other women working in the trades.

One vocal advocate in getting more women interested in the trades is 43-year-old refrigeration and air conditioning systems mechanic Brandi Ferenc. “I got into the trades when I was 30. I went to university and then worked in advertising, but I didn’t enjoy it,” she says. “I come from a family of tradespeople, and many of my male friends were in the trades, and I would hear about the variety of work and how interesting their days were.”

Ferenc says a 10-month Women in Skilled Trades course, which provided skill building and the safety certifications required to work on job site, along with a four-week job placement, was pivotal in helping her career transition.

“I wish I had gotten into the trades earlier, instead of spinning my wheels,” Ferenc says. “We need to change the perception and stigma of the trades. It has always been presented as a plan B, and lower option than going to university. Those days are over. The trades are highly technical and require a lot of smarts — it’s no longer just about doing labour.”