The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has reported that by the year 2020, Canada will be short one million trades workers.

Without a steady supply of both women and men equipped to work in areas of labour market demand, our economy will suffer from a lack of labour. As well, it will be burdened with the spiralling social costs of supporting individuals who lack marketable skills. This could further reduce Canada’s position in the global community.

Inequality still exists

We are already seeing a disturbing trend in women’s diminishing viability in the labour market. This is caused by the growing rates of poverty and income inequality amongst Canadian women. Notable poverty rates are those of Aboriginal women (First Nations, Métis, Inuit) at 36 percent, visible minority women at 35 percent, and single parent mothers at 21 percent.  

This trend was recently echoed in an international report. The 2013 Global Report on Gender Equality confirmed that since 2006, Canada's ranking has slipped on an international scale that measures the gap between men and women.

Canada has gone from 14th in 2006 to  20th in 2013 on the international scale that measures the gap between men and women. This is because of decreases in “the wage equality and professional and technical workers indicators,” according to the 2013 Global Report on Gender Equality.

Women excel in the trades

Women have more than proven their ability to succeed in skilled trades sectors that are exceptionally male dominated —specifically construction, motive power, and industrial. As well, they're excelling as carpenters, heavy equipment operators,  electricians, and in many other high-demand trades occupations.

 Employers who have hired women readily attest to their strong performance on the job. 

Despite women’s proven history of success in skilled trades, as a society, we have not yet demonstrated capacity to raise the overall number of women working in these jobs to a level adequate to address our looming skills shortages in these sectors.

As Tammy Evans, the President of Canadian Women in Construction stated at a recent Women in Trades Forum in Sudbury, Ontario, "women comprise 11 percent of people employed in the construction industry. Of that 11 percent, only four percent are actually "on the tools,” and in the past 10 years, this number has changed by less than one percent!"

Accelerating access

One key to addressing the gender imbalance in our trades and technical labour market lies in increasing focused opportunities that accelerate women’s access to training and employment opportunities. One program is pre-apprenticeship programs targeted to women.  This collaborative approach is a best practice worth scaling up with greater investment.

These programs engage a cross section of stakeholders. This includes women requiring marketable skills, community organizations that support women’s access, recognized training delivery agents for specific trades such as colleges and labour centres, and employers who need skilled trades workers. 

A better talent pool

By supporting more cohorts of women in pre-apprenticeship programs, employers will have more trained women candidates to hire.

When women join, they enter a ready-made support network of female colleagues that have the potential to influence and improve workplace culture for women. This will improve both apprenticeship completion and job retention rates, which is a benefit to all stakeholders.