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Giving women the opportunity to explore a career in trades can help to  bridge the employment gap.

In 2011, the average age of a tradesperson in Canada reached 55, the harbinger of an enormous skills vacuum just over the horizon as about 40 per cent of the skilled workforce retires. The Conference Board of Canada predicts that one million tradespeople will be needed by 2020, and that there may be a shortfall of up to 1.8 million by 2031.

At the same time, women are under-represented in the trades and are too often steered toward lower-paid fields such as elder care that, ironically, may require even more physical brawn as many trades have become more technical and less physical in nature.

But change is underway at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, where the Women in Trades and Technology (WITT) initiative is removing barriers to participation, connecting women with rewarding jobs that pay well and offer a promising future. Lack of awareness, training and role models are just some of the factors that keep women out of the skilled workforce, so the initiative connects women of all backgrounds with a wide range of programming, says Dr. Anne Neufeld, Sask Polytech's provost and vice-president, Academic.

GETT (Girls Exploring Trades and Technology) camps at Saskatchewan Polytechnic introduce girls currently in Grades 6, 7 and 8 to possible future careers in trades and technology. (Photo Credit: SUPPLIED)

Career exploration programming introduces women and girls to a range of trades while providing opportunities to develop basic trade and technology skills, a mentorship program connects female students with experienced women working in their fields, and a career development program provides academic and work skill development.

"Young women don't identify with a career where they see few female role models," says Jessica Baldwin, WITT's facilitator. "We have less than five per cent of female participation in trades and about 10 to 15 per cent in technology – very low compared to fields such as health care and education. We definitely have some work to do."

All of the instructors in the WITT programs are women, so by the end of the exploratory course, participants have gained empowering skills and have female role models to inspire them and help them identify career opportunities. "It can really help them jumpstart their careers," Baldwin notes.

The mentorship program can also make a tremendous difference throughout a woman's career, she explains. "If they're the only woman on a particular job site, especially if they're not having the greatest experience, being connected with a network of like-minded people really helps."

For Roxanne Leski, participating in the WITT program helped her move from wanting to do "something in the trades" to training for a career as a machinist. "With the help of the machines, our tools can cut through metal like it's butter. It's also indoor work, which I was interested in, living in Saskatchewan – and it's so much fun. It's really fast paced, you're always on the move and it's very challenging."

As an active mom of school-aged children, Leski wanted work she can do in Regina, where she lives, and participating in the WITT career exploration program helped her identify machining as the trade that met her criteria. She also likes the fact that the job pays "better money than most."

"Our goal is to bridge the employment gap between men and women in trades and technology careers," says Dr. Neufeld. "We have targeted marketing and expanded outreach programs to encourage girls and women to enter these careers, and our long-standing education equity program allocates seats to under-represented population segments, including women in non-traditional programming."

Dr. Neufeld stresses industry has an important role to play. "Employers need to examine their own individual environments and practices to ensure workplaces support women. Creating both learning and work environments that welcome women is an important step in addressing the growing skills gap."

Visit the Saskatchewan Polytechnic Women In Trades & Technology website to learn about events throughout the province:


Women made up


of those in registered apprenticeship programs in 2013


of all Canadians working in STEM fields were women in 2014


of information technology jobs are held by women in Canada

Source: Conference Board of Canada, Statistics Canada

This content was produced by Randall Anthony Communications, in partnership with The Globe and Mail's advertising department. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.