Men have traditionally made up the overwhelming majority of the workforce. However, this picture is starting to change. Today’s trades now require workers who are highly skilled, educated, and who can make use of modern technology as well as physical labour. 

The face of the skilled trades is also changing, with more women and ethnic minorities opting for trades careers. Natalee Lewis, 28, is a plumbing student who also works for Skills Canada. 

Natalee decided in January 2014 that she wanted a career in the skilled trades. “The first two weeks were a little strange. All of these twenty-year-old gentlemen wanted to help carry my toolbox! It was very cute, but I still felt the need to try to solder better than them and keep my projects level. I’m very competitive. But the guys are great — when I passed the first semester, I got a lot of pats on the back. They were rooting for me. I’m a classmate first and a woman second.”

Competition that causes change

Natalee found inspiration to switch careers in seeing others participate with Skills Canada’s skills competitions. These contests have youth demonstrate their abilities in competitions before a judging panel. 

"I’m a classmate first and a woman second.”

“We have over 40 trades at the competition, and there are about 560 competitors. They’re Canada’s best. The competition has been around for 20 years and employers recognize the dedication and work ethic of our competitors.” 

Consequently, the prospects for young people in the trades are excellent, according to Lisa Olsen of Skills Ontario. “The number of people retiring from the skilled trades and people going into them currently doesn’t match. So young people going in have a very good chance of gaining secure, worthwhile employment.” 

Patrick Bissett