Women are a largely untapped resource for metalworking skilled workforce dilemma despite making up almost half of the Canadian labour force. How can we change that? First, by listening to what women already working in the industry such as Lindsay Whittal, a licensed tool and die maker working for XL Tool, have to say. Insights from more female industry leaders will be published in the coming weeks both online at www.shopmetaltech.com and in the June issue of Shop Metalworking Technology magazine.
Q. What made you consider a career in metal manufacturing?
WHITTAL: I wasn’t afraid to dive into the trades and see what they really were about. I took machine shop starting in Grade 9 and continued it throughout high school. I was drawn to it. It’s hands-on work. You’re not sitting at desk with a textbook. The first project we made was a small aluminum Stanley Cup, which I still have. I also participated in the YES program (Youth Employment Skills) program through the Thames Valley District School Board in grade 11 to receive my level 1 General Machinist. I followed that with a double co-op in grade 12 and then did the 2.5 year Mechanical Technician – Tool and Die/Tool Maker program at Conestoga College. The first year was level 1 and 2. Second year was full co-op on the job learning. Third year was level 3. So when I completed the program I came out with all the schooling required and 2000 hours (from co-op), which helped towards the 8000 hours needed.
When I started at XL Tool, I already had all my levels of schooling finished so I wasn’t stuck doing the same task for six months. I was able to move around to do different job tasks. Within six months I was pretty much able to start working on everything from fly cutting to grinding, finishing blocks, fitting blocks on die sets and assembly of die sets.
Q. What issues have you encountered working in a male dominated field?
WHITTAL: You don’t see too many women in this industry. When I started at XL Tool, I was the first female they had hired so they had to figure out where I could change and which washroom I could use. For about seven years I was the only female on the shop floor. It wasn’t until the company started going into different high schools and trying to encourage more females into the trades and getting some co-op students taking machinist courses that more women came into our shop. Washrooms and change rooms are still a big thing when you go outside of your own shop.
Q. What would be your advice to women considering a career in metal manufacturing and to the shops looking to hire them?
WHITTAL: Take the opportunity right from Grade 9 to try out the trades at your school. It’s a great opportunity. By Grade 11 or 12 you can do your co-op with a shop. You could be saving thousands of dollars if they stay with you and cover the cost of sending you for further schooling. I think that so many times in high school they push going to college and university and they don’t think to push you into the trades. They don’t realize how important the trades are to the economy.
For the shop owners, I say take a chance. Even if the women don’t have much experience, give it a go. And when you do hire them, try to make the workplace environment as gender neutral as possible.