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RESCON holds inaugural Women in Construction webinar
October 25th, 2021 12:23 am     A+ | a-

By Grant Cameron/RESCON
 
With 100,000 additional workers required in Ontario’s construction industry over the next decade, there is a need for more women to take up the tools, Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop said in remarks at the first-ever Women in Construction webinar organized by RESCON.
 
“It’s no secret that the construction industry has historically been composed largely of men,” she told the audience. “Women account for just over 12 per cent of employment in construction in Ontario.
 
“This tells us that we need to do things differently.”
 
Dunlop said there needs to be greater awareness generated among women about the rewarding careers that exist in the skilled trades, including the construction industry.
 
“That means we need to break down barriers that make it difficult for women to pursue careers in the field.”
 
Dunlop, a longtime champion of women in the skilled trades, was keynote speaker at the event. She noted that the construction industry accounts for 7.2 per cent, or $50.9 billion of Ontario’s GDP, and is essential to the economy – even more so as the province continues to recover from COVID-19.
 
She said a career in the skilled trades offers great earning potential, a chance to use cutting-edge technology, offers many paths to advancement, and workers get paid while they learn and earn transferrable skills.
 
“Skilled labour jobs are good jobs that can provide a meaningful, financially stable career path for many in Ontario, including women.”
 
Achieving equal representation for women in traditionally male-dominated industries is a priority for government, Dunlop said, and through partnerships between colleges, training providers, unions, government and organizations like RESCON, the situation for women is improving.
 
As the mother of three determined daughters, she said she wholeheartedly believes that women can accomplish anything they set their minds to. “We know that in the past and present, women have been crushing stereotypes and doing remarkable work in fields like engineering and construction.”
 
Dunlop said she is encouraged by events like RESCON’s webinar that continue the conversation and inspire dialogue.
 
France Daviault, executive director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF), also spoke at the event. She shared research on participation rates among women in the skilled trades and presented information about the barriers they face and why they end up leaving.
 
That was followed by a panel discussion with Bailey Wood, a plumber and gasfitter with UA Local 46, Alexandra Wells, the first female tilesetter with LiUNA Local 183 who now works for a firm in the Niagara area, and Maryam Amin, an assistant production manager at Great Gulf. The women shared their experiences and gave advice for young women who are thinking of a career in the trades.
 
The discussion was moderated by Jennifer Green, director of competitions and young women’s incentives at Skills Ontario.
 
Daviault noted that the proportion of total female apprenticeship registrations in construction, manufacturing and transportation is low, rising only slightly to 4.5 per cent in 2018 from 3.9 per cent in 2014.
 
Thirty years of research done on why women are underrepresented in the skilled trades, she said, shows there are a number of barriers to women entering the industry, such as the reputation of the industry, schedules that are difficult when women are primary caregivers, job postings don’t state they are welcome, and the fact women don’t see themselves in the ads, although that is changing.
 
Reasons cited for leaving include harassment or bullying on worksites, issues with access to washrooms, PPE does not fit, and difficulty finding caregivers.
 
There are remedies, though. For example, setting temporary quotas until there are more women represented in the workforce has been shown to work, said Daviault. She also suggested companies should implement a zero-tolerance policy for harassment on worksites and enforce them.

Companies also must ensure women have access to proper fitting PPE and suitable washroom facilities, consider how to accommodate caregiving, and provide mentorship and support to women, she said.
 
Daviault also talked about the Supporting Women in Trades initiative which is aimed at creating sustained and measurable change for women.
 
The three female panelists, meanwhile, spoke about their experiences on the job, the barriers they’ve faced and what needs to be done to make the trades more appealing to women. The consensus was they feel a need to prove themselves to their male counterparts even though they have the same credentials. They also felt the industry is getting better for female employees in the trades.
 
Wood said that on worksites where there is a dedicated washroom for women, it is often locked and sometimes can take days to get a key to open it. She said the keys should be readily accessible.
 
For Wells, a big hurdle has been making sure her ideas are heard. In the past, she’d find her suggestions ignored but when a male co-worker offered up the same idea it was approved. The solution, she said, is to talk to co-workers and keep at it every day – and not be afraid to ask questions.
 
Amin explained there are many benefits to working in construction management because she gets to learn new things every day and work with people on site as well as homeowners. By way of advice, she noted there are many different divisions in construction, like planning or land and development, and women should educate themselves about the industry occupations that are available to them.
 
Click here to watch a recording of the webinar.
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