This means hundreds of thousands of jobs opening up in the trades sector, with only a fraction of the workforce available to fill this gap. In order to meet the demand, Canada is going to be looking at its most logical and readily available resource — its female workforce.

Unfortunately, it will take more than a mere desire to get this ball rolling. There are many reasons that women only make up four percent of the skilled trades workforce, and one of them is stigma. Think of a carpenter, electrician, or plumber and you’ll invariably picture a man at the helm. This imagery is a result of men dominating the trades sector since its beginning, which means that any woman attempting to enter the field is immediately fighting an invisible foe. Couple that with a fear of speaking out in case of ridicule and it’s no wonder that the numbers are so low.

Breaking down barriers

Luckily, there are a number of organizations working towards solving this problem. Build Together, a national Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU) program, helps the industry tap into this source of skilled labour by promoting, supporting, and mentoring women in the skilled construction trades. The program has a team of tradeswomen who act as industry representatives. Located across Canada, the representatives are able to promote and advocate for women in the trades at the national and local level.

“Now that women have gained an awareness about the trades, it’s time for us to remove the barriers that prevent them from thriving.”

“When people think about getting more women in the trades they often think it ends at recruitment, but supporting and mentoring women within the trades is equally important,” says Lindsay Amundsen, Build Together’s Director of Program Development and Operations. “Now that women have gained an awareness about the trades, it’s time for us to remove the barriers that prevent them from thriving.”

A perfect union

In order to ensure that the necessary steps are being taken throughout Canada, Build Together has partnered with the Office to Advance Women Apprentices (OAWA), a Newfoundland & Labrador provincial initiative that works to increase employment opportunities for women in the skilled trades sector. OAWA works with female apprentices once they’ve completed their in-school training to assist them in finding employment opportunities, with the ultimate goal of achieving journeyperson status. They accomplish this by establishing working partnerships with employers, unions, government, and training institutions throughout the province.

The successful partnership between CBTU and OAWA has been paramount to an increase of tradeswomen. As a result, OAWA is looking to open an office in every province to replicate their success across Canada and promote the underlying message of both organizations, which is to ensure that women have a working environment that is conducive to their success.

Top down change

While Build Together and OAWA are unfaltering in their cause, they both agree that for real change to occur, it needs to come from the top down. We’ve already seen this kind of action taken at the very top, as Justin Trudeau wryly said “Because it’s 2015” when asked why it was important to have a cabinet that was gender balanced. Now, that same level-headedness is needed from our leaders in the trades sector in order for women to take their rightful place as a viable part of the industry.

“Workplace culture starts with leadership from modeling appropriate behaviour to holding people accountable for their actions.”

“Workplace culture starts with leadership,” says Robert Blakely, CBTU’s Canadian Operating Officer, “from modeling appropriate behaviour to holding people accountable for their actions.” This industry needs to attract and maintain a diverse workforce to survive and that means we need to create a workplace that’s attractive to our new workforce. It won’t be easy, but with Build Together and OAWA, this challenge is ready to be tackled.

Thankfully, groups like Carpenters’ Local 579 are already fully embracing OAWA and its practices, ensuring women are receiving increased employment opportunities and access to apprenticeship programs. The forward-thinking example led by these groups is something that CBTU and OAWA hope to see spread across the whole of Canada.

Once underway, a more diverse workforce will start to show immediate benefits for employers, as research suggests that an inclusive workplace improves staff morale, which in turn increases productivity and efficiency. So, it seems that we not only need tradeswomen to fill in the gap, but their inclusion in the industry is ultimately beneficial to everyone involved.