Even through a pandemic, construction work remains steady and in demand. Buildforce Canada estimates that Canada will need to recruit more than 300,000 new workers over the next decade to keep pace with demand. One way to help fill the labor gap is through hiring more women. While the number of women in construction is steadily on the rise, women made up more than 13% of the total workforce in construction in 2019, only 4.7% of tradespeople working in construction were females.
BC and Alberta Leading Nation
Though the proportion of women is low across the country, there is some geographical disparity. BC and Alberta lead the nation in numbers of female tradespeople in the industry, with 6.4 and 6.8%, respectively, while the maritime provinces show a lower representation with 3.1% female tradespeople in New Brunswick’s construction industry and 3.5% in Nova Scotia’s.
Overall, 13% of Canadians employed in the construction industry (both on and off-site) are women.
This difference may be partially a result of recent recruitment efforts aimed directly at young women and girls. Ontario Colleges reports that some institutions are offering free or low-cost apprenticeship programs to entice young women to the trades. The Women in Skilled Trades (WIST) program through Conestoga College is one of them. WIST provides a federally funded pre-apprenticeship carpenter general training program for qualified applicants, which includes orientation with the trade as well as basic computer and job search skills.
What’s Making the Difference
In 2019, Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU) launched a new program designed to bolster female participation in the trades by 30%. The Canadian government invested more than $300 million toward launching new Offices to Advance Women Apprentices (OAWA) in Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan. The programs help women in construction apprenticeships through mentoring, career counselling, and networking. CBTU says Newfoundland, where 13% of tradespeople are women, offers a great example of the potential of an OAWA office.
The federal government offers Apprenticeship Incentive Grants (AIGs) to women who apprentice in a Red Seal trade. It awards up to $3,000 for each year of apprenticeship completed, to a maximum of $6,000 over the course of the training.
Still Progress to be Made
Some of the traditional barriers to women in construction are dissolving completely: cultural expectations that women remain in the home, for instance, have become relics of the past. However, some barriers still remain.
Changing workplaces’ culture ultimately depends on getting more women involved in the trades.
Some women report casual sexism and an ‘old boys’ attitude. Discriminatory recruitment or hiring processes, as well as coworkers’ negative behaviours, can make getting and staying in a job difficult for women, according to a report entitled Enhancing the Retention and Advancement of Women in Trades in British Columbia. While programs like WIST try to prepare women for this type of situation head-on, eradicating such behaviours and changing workplaces’ culture ultimately depends on getting more women involved in the trades, say advocates.
Some advocates also point out that in order to get women on board, employers will have to make concessions for families, including the possibility of on-site daycare.
Where Will The Future Take Us?
As things stand, the future looks bright for women in construction. The numbers of women employed on jobsites, though currently still low, are increasing over the years. Statistics Canada reports that one in five women who enroll in apprenticeship programs choose traditionally male-dominated trades like carpentry, welding, and electrician. Most find themselves employed in their field of study after graduation.
There’s a long way to go to reach gender parity in Canadian construction, but new inroads are built each day to reach the goal.