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Program closes industry gender gap

By Jenni Spinner+

03-Dec-2013

A University of Guelph program encourages girls to enter food processing, mechanics and other skilled trades.
A University of Guelph program encourages girls to enter food processing, mechanics and other skilled trades.

Trade professionals and school officials are joining forces to steer girls toward careers in food processing and other hands-on fields.

At the recent Living the Skilled Life event, the University of Guelph (Canada) hosted 150 teen female students from 30 different Ontario schools at its Kemptville campus. During a series of hands-on workshops, professionals showcased a variety of skilled trades, such as horticulture, welding and mechanics.

The weeklong program was facilitated by the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Programs of the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO).

Brain drain

Alex MacDougall, Ontario Youth Apprenticeship (OYAP) facilitator for the UCDSB, said food processing and other industries are feeling the pains of losing skilled staff to the retiring of baby boomers. The problem will only get worse over time.

By the year 2020, Canada will be short 1m skilled tradespeople,” he said. “In Ontario alone, 26% of the skilled workers will be retiring over the next 10 years.”

Dan Lortie, OYAP counterpart with the CDSBEO, said that there is a marked gender gap in the current pool of skilled tradespeople.

 “More boys than girls choose a career in the trades,” he said. “We’re hoping to even that up.”

Skills and experience

Elizabeth Woods shared her experience as a skilled tradesperson. She enrolled in an apprenticeship program at the university, then progressed to an eight-week work placement at nearby Dymech Engineering.

According to Woods, her experience as a woman in a male-dominated field has been eye-opening and largely positive.

Once they saw what I could do and that I could pull my own weight, they stopped treating me like a girl,” she said. “We all want to see each other succeed.”

Students participating in the program learned from presenters the opportunities available to women. They also heard that women have a number of advantages over their male counterparts—for example, women often excel at skilled work (operating machinery, welding parts together, fixing food processing equipment, and the like) because of superior hand/eye coordination.

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