A growing number of construction employers, unions and schools across the country are embracing a new initiative to hire and train more female apprentices and journeypersons in the skilled trades.
The initiative, called Champions4Change, is based on four postulates. It aims to generate awareness, trigger policy change, recognize best practices, and create skilled trade workplace environments, all to increase the number of women apprentices, journeypersons and supervisors.
It is part of a National Strategy for Supporting Women in the Trades (SWiT), led by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF).
“Since the launch of the campaign, a number of employers have taken the Champions4Change pledge,” said CAF executive director France Daviault. “These employers have committed not only to hiring and training more women apprentices, but they have agreed to make their numbers public year over year.
“We believe that what gets measured gets done. And therefore, having the employers take the pledge in this form can lead to a tangible change to the numbers overall, which have been stagnant for decades.”
Ten employers, unions and schools have already joined the initiative as champions. This basically means they have pledged to do their part to support women that are already working in the skilled trades or just exploring employment opportunities. They’ve also committed to setting measurable targets and sharing their progress.
Thirteen other organizations that are actively involved in hiring or training apprentices have signed on as allies, with an overall goal of having tradeswomen make up 15 per cent of the workforce by 2030.
“Although these organizations do not directly hire or train apprentices, they are connected to employers and unions who do and have pledged to bring them on board as a Champions4Change,” saidDaviault.
The initiative is also receiving more attention at the political level. It was discussed at a construction industry roundtable hosted by the federal government and was recently mentioned by federal Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough in remarks at CAF’s national apprenticeship conference.
Recent figures show that women represent only 4.5 per cent of apprentice registrations in the skilled trades in the construction, manufacturing and transportation sectors in Canada. While the number has been steadily rising, the increase is only marginal since 2014 when the figure was 3.9 per cent. It’s still a long way from the 15 per cent goal set to achieve by 2030.
Daviault said those who join the movement understand that numbers matter and aren’t afraid to be part of the discussion.
“We are beyond rhetoric as the number hasn’t increased in years. It’s time to be bold by holding industry accountable for the numbers.”
Stereotypes and unwelcoming workplaces have been flagged as the biggest barriers that women experience. Accurate career information, a supportive, safe and respectful work environment, high-quality teaching and mentoring all help women pursue careers in the skilled trades.
The initiative lays out clear ways to boost the numbers of women in the trades.
First, it calls for a national call-to-action campaign where champions are recognized and the necessary tools for change are provided.
The initiative also calls on all levels of government to implement diversity targets on infrastructure projects and hold employers and unions accountable for publishing hiring numbers.
What’s more, toolboxes for employers, labour organizations, educators, tradeswomen, and their allies will be developed. They will help create a respectful workplace and develop an understanding that organizations must lead the way and immediately prepare and implement a concrete action plan.
Finally, the plan calls for a commitment to change by setting a measurable target and track and publish the results to create awareness of the actual proportion of women in the workplace.
Daviault said the initiative would continue to be a driving force of conversations at all levels of government and within the industry.
To keep the momentum going, the CAF intends to keep adding to its toolboxes. It will publish a report in 2021 outlining the results of the first year of the initiative and commitments to change.
The CAF will also host a third Supporting Women in Trades Conference next year when. The organization will ask industry and tradeswomen to sort through best practices and highlight successes, says Daviault.
“This strategy is what will provide a focused and unbiased look at the numbers over time, highlighting which best practices lead to tangible change.”