MEDIAPLANET: What inspired the creation of Women Building Futures (WBF) in 1998?

JUDYLYNN ARCHER: WBF was the inspiration of a group of social workers who work in Edmonton, AB. They wanted to create a solution to help women get out of poverty in a way they would never have to go back.  They believed helping women get into carpentry would be the way to achieve it. Over the years, WBF has built on that original dream — offering training in carpentry, sheet metal, welding, electrical, pipefitting and plumbing, heavy equipment operating, ironworking, insulating, and building Canada’s first trades training centre for women. It is becoming the go-to place for women who want to explore, pursue,  or advance a career in Canada’s construction and maintenance industry, and for the hiring employers.

MEDIAPLANET: What is a current priority for the trades industry?

ROSEMARY SPARKS: The construction industry is going to lose close to a quarter of a million skilled tradespeople to retirement over the next 10 years. This will impact all trades, so the industry will need to replenish the workforce with the next generation of workers. This means attracting all sources of labour, including women.

MP: What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the trades?

RS: If women think construction trades might be an option for them, they should talk to people in the trades, and take any opportunities to try the trades they are interested in: co-op programs, career exploration programs, and summer jobs. If they select a skilled trade, be sure they complete their apprenticeship and get their certificate of qualification. Construction is like any career: you need to be well prepared, and ready to work, to benefit from all the available opportunities.

MP: What changes have you noticed in the industry since then? 

JA: Huge changes.  Back in 1998, the industry was reluctant to hire WBF graduates. Today, as the industry faces a mass exodus of one-quarter of the entire construction workforce in Canada (over 250,000 workers), the industry is seeking numerous solutions to meet their workforce needs. We work with over 300 employers now, all of whom are very engaged in hiring and apprenticing WBF graduates.  It is a 180 over 1998!