While other little girls played princess or dreamt of being ballerinas, Kate Zimmerman, currently enrolled in the Automotive Service Technician Program at Northern Lights College, grew up knowing that she wanted to be a mechanic.

“Grandpa was a mechanic and I was always kind of his mini me,” she says. That special time spent with her grandfather set her on the path to become an automotive service technician — a career path many young women may not consider.

Women in the workforce

Though women make up approximately half of the workforce, they only represent five percent of the skilled trades workers in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. During a recent Skills Canada training program Zimmerman was the only girl in her class. Also of note is how rarely she sees other girls in the workforce.

Skills Canada Executive Director Amber Papou attributes this discrepancy in part to a lack of awareness about all the trades have to offer.

“Women that aren’t inclined to become a doctor or a teacher may not understand that there are other opportunities where they can use their hands or their minds in different ways,” says Papou. “That’s where it’s really important to encourage women to enter these fields — not only because there’s a lack of women, but also because there are more choices that they don’t know exist.”

Success in the skilled trades

Zimmerman spent time working in other jobs, including in a toy store, but says that they didn’t offer the same challenges and opportunities as working in the automotive sector.

“I pretty much went nuts at the toy store because there wasn’t much to do,” she says, adding that in the auto industry there’s never a shortage of tasks — and they are tasks she excels at. “I love working with my hands, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Budding careers like Zimmerman’s are an example of what Papou believes women can achieve in the skilled trades.

“The opportunities need to be open to women so they understand the trades are somewhere they can create a great living for themselves doing something that they love to do,” she says. “[And] the opportunities are going to grow exponentially.”

Zimmerman plans to keep taking advantage of these opportunities, furthering her dream career as a mechanic, and keep making her grandpa proud.