by Ethan Paquet
In recent years, Canada has become a world leader in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. As more businesses and organizations look to innovate, modernize, and grow, there is a rising demand for people with STEM-related and skilled trades.
The labour market has been underrepresented with women in these roles, but a program that recently expanded to PEI is working to change that.
Based in Nova Scotia, Techsploration provides educational programming to young women and non-binary youth in grades nine through 12 with the aim of helping them explore and understand STEM and skilled trades careers.
Their award-winning four-phase program supports participants by providing guidance and mentorship as they explore the wide range of career options in fields where women are significantly underrepresented.
“Our goal is to reach young women before they choose high school math and science courses,” says Emily Boucher, Executive Director. “We want to ensure they have the knowledge and experience required to make informed career decisions before they enter post-secondary studies.”
In 2001, Techsploration expanded to Newfoundland and Labrador. Recently, their National Expansion pilot program brought programming to Ontario and PEI.
“Kinkora Regional High School is our first Techsploration PEI school. We are thrilled to have the PEI Business Women’s Association as our presenting partner. This pilot/expansion has been made possible with the financial support of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.”
Teams of up to eight students are selected from each school. In addition to the educational component, there is a significant focus on highlighting mentors and careers in skilled trades. They gain access to the program’s diverse network of industry professionals, many of whom are women who were previously involved in the program, says Emily.
“Having access to a strong network allows our participants to gain an understanding of who they are, who they want to be, and where they want to go. It also provides a support system to help get them there.”
Margaret Davidson, Program Manager, agrees. “The network we provide is so impactful. We have members across Canada, the US, and the rest of the world. We share information from partners that help alumni find their dream jobs, provide safe spaces for all our students, and provide details to parents about scholarships and bursaries, among so many other things.”
Part of the work is to be a visible role model to students so that they can see there are women in these careers, she says. “When we go into a school, we talk to both young females and young males so that they can see us in our roles.”
Another part of what makes the program a success is that it addresses the issues youth face. “Many of our participants are experiencing a lot of anxiety and panic about what is happening in the world today. We have created a safe space that includes on-site counsellors to help and support them as they work through that moment.”
Lynsee MacLean was a Nova Scotia high school student when she took the program in 2009. She began a career in nursing, but her experience with the program was always at the back of her mind, she says.
“I remember how inspiring and strong all the women were that I met. I reminded myself that if all these incredible women can excel in fields where women are significantly underrepresented, then so can I.”
In 2021, she decided to leave her nursing career behind and begin a new career in the trades. “I met a carpenter and got to see and learn about the tools of the trade. I never grew up around tools or construction, so seeing everything up close and getting to learn about it was so cool.”
Now in her second year at Nova Scotia Community College, she thanks her Techsploration mentor for helping her feel welcome as a woman in the trades. “He was accepting and treated me as an equal. I had anxiety about starting my career in the trades, not knowing how it would be to work in a field with so few women. Having him there to guide me, in such a welcoming environment, taught me that I do belong and I am capable of doing anything.”