LYALL'S FILES: Women want to enter the construction trades, so let’s give them the opportunities
October 31st, 2019 9:04 pm     A+ | a-

Richard Lyall / RESCON

Kate Campbell is passionate about the trades, and didn’t hold back on her love for working on construction sites when speaking recently to a room of 300 girls transfixed on her every move.

“I’m so passionate about my job. I make good money doing a job that I love and I love speaking about the job that I do,” said the tradeswoman, entrepreneur and TV star.

Campbell, who has starred on HGTV shows such as Holmes On Homes, Handyman Superstar Challenge, Custom Built and Home to Win, was in top form as she told her success story to the crowd of Grade 7 and 8 students bussed to Durham College’s Whitby campus from the surrounding region. Involving several hands-on workshops, about 600 students attended over the two-day event.

We’re proud to present some highlights of her story and the event here, as it was an inspiring day for girls everywhere.
The event was the college’s second annual conference called Expand the Possibilities: Young Women in Science, Technology and Trades. RESCON was a proud sponsor of the event.

We believe that we need more women in the trades and that the industry must be involved in finding ways to make it easier to get women entry into trades programs. Campbell is living proof that women can find success in the trades – so is the Job Talks construction series (


However, women face barriers to entering the skilled trades. In order to get more women involved, we need an open, transparent admissions process for trades, training and apprenticeship. If we are going to address the skills shortage, we can’t turn our back or maintain the barriers facing 50% of our population.

Because of my strong support for getting more women into the trades, I was thrilled to introduce Campbell to the crowd, and proud to announce that Campbell’s foothold in the trades came from the Women in Skilled Trades (WIST) program at the Centre for Skills Development in Burlington, Ont. RESCON provides two bursaries for this program. At WIST, she was introduced to framing, electrical, plumbing and several other trades (more on the program on this blog next month).
Campbell said she had a lot of support from her parents to choose her career path.

PHOTO CREDIT: Durham College
HGTV star Kate Campbell poses with, from left, RESCON’s Richard Lyall, Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano and Durham College president Don Lovisa at the college’s second annual conference, Expand the Possibilities: Young Women in Science, Technology and Trades.


“Right from the beginning, I was told that I should do whatever I want, no matter what. I didn’t know what kind of career I wanted. But I knew that I wanted to be active and constantly challenged.

“That’s why I chose the skilled trades, where women represent only 4% of the industry.”

To give you some perspective, Campbell, who’s also an entrepreneur and the principal of renovation company KateBuilds Inc., was no slouch at school – she graduated with a 93-per-cent average. But this didn’t mean that she wanted to be funnelled down the university stream. Actually, it was quite the opposite: while her friends made plans to head to university, she went backpacking in Australia and New Zealand with her parents’ blessing.

After returning home, her mother gave her a newspaper clipping about the WIST program. She was one of 200 applicants, and was selected among a group of 20.


“As soon as I walked in the door (at the college) and I picked up a circular saw for the first time, I had never been happier in my life. We were learning about electrical and plumbing and building code, and I was building things that were tangible and I was really excited about going in every day.”

She had to find a placement at the end of the course – she decided to “go big or go Holmes” by applying to Canada’s most famous renovator, Mike Holmes, to be not only on TV but to learn as an apprentice. “I wanted take my career to a different level while learning and speaking on camera and using power tools.

“I was so nervous walking onto that site full of men but I knew that I wanted to be there. And I knew that I was passionate about the skilled trades.


“You go home at the end of the day and you see something tangible in front of you that you participated in building, and that for me is one of the most rewarding things about my career – other than speaking about the trades, because I love the trades so much.

“I’m really proud that I am that I can go to work, strap on the toolbelt, put on my work boots and get the job done.”
She has now been on several shows on television for 14 years and travelled extensively – across Canada, to New Orleans and the Bahamas.

She is now serving a higher purpose – to encourage others, especially women to enter the trades. Her own initiative, “Build Women Up” funds scholarships for women pursuing careers in the trades.  

Part of spreading the good word about the trades involves laying out the lesser-known important facts about the skilled trades.

First of all, the jobs are out there.


“Industry and labour cannot find enough skilled workers to keep up with demand,” she says. “This skills shortage is critical and without a concerted effort by industry, labour, education and government, Ontario’s ability to compete in the global economy will be severely diminished.”

Secondly, the jobs are highly satisfying.

“Skilled workers require a high level of skill, judgment, creativity and frequently use sophisticated technology. There are so many challenges on a daily basis … I’m always learning something new, every single day.”

Thirdly, the pay is good. “People working in the trades make above-average salaries with top performers in some trades earning well over $60,000 a year.

“All of those friends that went to university, they were the ones saying to me, ‘Kate, how could you go into the trades? You need to go to university to be successful.’ And four years later, they had graduated, they couldn’t find a job, they had to go back to college or find a job in an industry that they actually hadn’t gone to school for, they had massive amounts of school debt.


“Meanwhile, I already had four years of learning in my industry, I owned a house of my own, I had zero school debt and I was looking back at them like, ‘You thought I was crazy?’”

Fourth, there are opportunities for career growth.

“Many tradespeople continue to develop careers in management, teaching or as owners of their own company. I am one of those people: I own my own company and I know a lot of people following that same path.

“I chose to go into the trades; this wasn’t a consolation prize. It wasn’t because I couldn’t get into university. I wanted to work with my hands. I loved going to job sites every day.

“My skills are transferable and practical.”

Fifth, successful people enter take on trades jobs.

“Some of the most successful people, the most intelligent people, I know are tradespeople. We’re continuously learning. When I first got into the trades and I took my skilled trades course, I had a hard time and was very intimidated by reading a tape measure. 

“Looking back 14 years later, my tape measure is like a second language to me. Reading drawings used to intimidate me … Visualize a house like that and then build it.

“Evolving as a tradesperson and a business owner – I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I always knew that I wanted to take my skills that I had learned and create my own company, and do my own thing and improve myself. So I developed a team and I also developed my own company which gives me so much opportunity and create a whole bunch of other problem-solving problems.

Lastly, the opportunities are out there for women.

“I have so many opportunities as a woman – there is so much support for you guys who are thinking about getting into the trades.”

Durham College president Don Lovisa added: “Engaging more young women in the fields of science, technology and skilled trades is critical if we are going to conquer the skills shortage that is facing employers and industries across the country. Our hope is that at the end of each day, students leave this conference with a clearer vision of the incredible opportunities and careers that are available to them.”

Let’s end this with some tips from Campbell to the students if they’re considering pursuing a skilled trade:

1. Talk to teachers, guidance counsellors, parents and mentors.
2. Consider an apprenticeship.
3. Look into OYAP.
4. Prepare to encounter and conquer roadblocks in your career and in life – these include fear, failure and the hard work required.
5. There’s not always a straight road to success.
6. Life is short: pursue your passion.
7. Everyone encounters points in life where they feel like giving up; determination is key.
8. In career and life, something might not be easy, but it will be worth it.
Kate Campbell, you’re an inspiration and a trailblazer! We can’t wait to see the next generation of women in the trades who joined thanks to your inspirational words.

Richard Lyall, president of RESCON, has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. Reach him at or @RESCONprez.
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