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The tide is turning for women seeking employment in the construction industry

By Lisa Kopochinski

Like many industries across Canada, heavy construction continues to face a looming shortage of skilled workers.

Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters predicts that Canada will have 1.3 million vacant skilled labour job positions by 2016, with no one to fill them. Between now and 2020, more than 200,000 construction industry employees are expected to retire. And an estimated one-third of the construction worker shortage is Alberta-based. According to the Government of Alberta, there are nearly 800 major capital projects – those valued at more than $5 million – planned or in progress, valued at a total of more than $220 billion. Meanwhile, Alberta’s unemployment rate sits at 4.7 per cent as of April 2014.

According to the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training 2013 Statistics Report, the top trade choices for women in construction-related apprenticeships are welder (662); electrician (607); parts technician (399); steamfitter/pipefitter (245); and carpenter (209).

“Five thousand women will connect with our organization this year, asking for help to enter the field of construction,” said JudyLynn Archer, president and CEO of Women Building Futures (WBF), an Edmonton-based non-profit organization that provides pre-trades training to women.

Although it remains a challenge for women to find employment in this predominately male field, the tide is turning as more organizations strive to help them become trained and find jobs.

“Women are more than capable of this work,” said Archer. “The sooner they can be brought in to learn from the experts, many whom will retire over the next decade, the better.” 

WBF offers an extensive awareness program that includes helping women determine if a career in construction is a good match. WBF also provides workplace culture training, safety-certification, academic preparation and skill training to women as welders, plumbers, carpenters, boilermakers, millwrights, electricians, pipefitters and heavy equipment operators. Graduates are provided job-matching services, employment retention support and apprenticeship registration and completion support for as long as needed. Programs are funded through corporate sponsorships, fee-for-service recruitment and training contracts and government grants.

Archer says there has never been a better time in the history of our country for women to enter this industry. With worker shortages on the horizon and women looking for careers that provide a great lifestyle, a career in construction can be the perfect match.

“The average increase in annual income for women who graduate from a WBF pre-trades program is 127 per cent, and 169 per cent from the heavy equipment operator programs.”

Angela Carter is certainly glad she found WBF. This former resident of Moncton, N.B. drove from the Maritimes to Edmonton late last year in the hopes of securing work as a labourer. After completing the WBF heavy equipment operator program, what she has now is a career as an excavator operator for an Edmonton-based water and sewer company.

“I like getting dirty and I’ve always been fascinated with big machinery and equipment,” she said. “I just never had an opportunity to get on one and operate one until now. When I finished school, I ended up getting employment with a paving company. I was operating one of the packers, but I wanted to get into heavy equipment. The excavator was actually my dream piece. I’m still pinching myself. I can’t believe it is happening.”

Heavy construction can also be one of the more physically demanding areas of the industry. Carter often works in tight spaces and navigating the machinery can take a toll.

“You’re constantly moving around and the machines vibrate,” she said. “They call the excavator the retirement piece because your body does not move around as much. It depends on what you are operating because it can definitely take a toll on your body. That’s why it’s important to exercise, stay healthy, eat right and stay hydrated.”

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.