welder womanClick image to enlargeby Rhea Gill, CWB Group

Preconceived ideas are changing, opening up opportunities to help fill the skilled trades gap

 

Having spent much of 2018 speaking to women welders from different sectors, CWB was able to gain a better understanding of the struggles and successes of women entering such a male-dominated industry. With that in mind, CWB is committed to creating awareness for women who wish to join the trades and for employers that have ever hesitated to welcome women into their shops.

Interestingly, women account for just 4.5 per cent of the skilled trade workers in Canada. This statistic is proof that although women are making leaps and bounds in many areas of the workforce, their involvement in the trades remains alarmingly low. It is argued that there are many reasons why women are not seen in the skilled trades market, some of which are common misconceptions about a woman’s place in the workforce. However, those who have welcomed women onto their shop floors recognize there is a gaping shortage of skilled workers that can be filled with the right training and a change in attitude towards welcoming women and minorities into the trade.

It is no secret that working in the welding sector and many other trades can often be physically demanding work. This is one of the top concerns when promoting welding to women: the idea that a woman is incapable of working in a job that requires physical ability. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The team at CWB and Michelle Stanford, senior vice president, industry services at CWB and the lead for the women in welding campaign, found that not only are women working as welders but they are taking on various leadership roles in their organizations. They believe that although physical strength is essential to getting certain aspects of the job done correctly and efficiently, it takes more than just power and muscle. 

“There are preconceived notions about whether women can handle themselves in a male-dominated environment,” says Jamieson Pouw, market development manager at the Bucket Shop, which provides solutions for mining bucket applications and has been in business for almost 30 years. “However, we at the Bucket Shop quickly realized that skills show themselves. Whoever is making sparks will be seen pretty fast, and that is what levels the playing field. When a worker, be it male or female, is placed beside a large piece of equipment, and the output is identical, it drops a lot of barriers between people and allows for many women to be welcomed as productive, contributing employees.”

The company has witnessed and experienced many significant changes over time including the transition from being an all-male environment to one that is eagerly opening its doors to women. “Our culture has evolved… [and we are] embracing a flat model that collaborates for more learning opportunities. We view mistakes as our biggest opportunities to learn and want to create an environment that employees are excited to be in.” 

The Bucket Shop quickly learned that they were no longer part of a working environment that had the pick of the land regarding tradespeople. They adapted to the growing needs of the skilled trades and adjusted their company culture to recognize the importance of placing the right people in the right jobs. They put great emphasis on the character of a person and a desire for their employees to learn. That became the benchmark against which each potential candidate was measured, and they quickly found themselves hiring more women into the organization. 

They now boast about 20 per cent women in their production environment, who are some of the best welders on the floor. Their appreciation for details, desire to learn and a strong willingness to share ideas and feedback have allowed them to become some of the most active employees.

After extensive research and interviews, it quickly became indisputable that the trades have always been an old boys’ club. Knowing the fast-paced and competitive nature of today’s workforce, women are understandably hesitant to pursue a career in welding due to the fear that they may be overlooked for a promotion or learning opportunity simply because of their gender. Additionally, there have been many women that have shared negative experiences which have reinforced their fears that the shop floor isn’t the place for them. 

One woman’s account of her experiences in the industry played into the generalization that the field is no place for a woman. “Why do you work here anyway? You should be a teacher or something, you shouldn’t be out here with us,” were just some examples of the discrimination that she had to endure.¹ In instances such as these, we need to focus our resources on educating men on the benefits of diversity in the field and the value that women can bring to the job.

Being a tradesperson is a fulfilling career path and should be open to all those with interest in working in a hands-on industry. With governmental laws and the keenness of employers to widen the candidate pool, our industry and economy has the potential of great prosperity going forward if employers continue to be open-minded and accepting. SMT

 

¹ Wheaton, Margo. “Working It Out: Employment Experiences in Trades and Technology.” The Hypatia Association.

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