The Office to Advance Women Apprentices is new to the Island. The program was developed in Newfoundland and Labrador 10 years ago. During that time, the percentage of female tradespeople in Newfoundland jumped from three percent to 13 percent.
“On PEI, women represent only about three percent of those employed in the trades,” says Cheryl McNeill, Project Coordinator. “The percentage of women in college trades programs is much higher, but there has been no service to help them remain in and advance through their apprenticeship to journeyperson status. Also, there is a low number of employers hiring and retaining women.
“Our service helps break down barriers and educates industry representatives and those interested in or working in the trades. We work with women to help them become employed and to maintain employment in their trade. They may get in the door, but barriers and issues may come up that lead to some being let go or walking away from the trades. We want to work on those barriers and improve and advance the success of women in trades.
“We offer services to women in the trades and women interested in the trades, and we support employers with suggestions about inclusion and retention of tradeswomen. We ask employers about their concerns and we work with them to offer suggestions and solutions. The core of our organization is built on developing strong communication, education, and partnerships with all employers, unions, and tradespeople.”
Offices in Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba opened in spring 2019, and the offices on PEI and New Brunswick opened in October.
The Office to Advance Women Apprentices-PEI assists in enhancing employment outcomes for women in underrepresented skilled trades by:
- Addressing barriers limiting women’s entry, advancement, and completion of apprenticeship in Red Seal construction trades
- Developing and maintaining a registry database to help track and connect women to trades employment
- Providing wrap-around supports including career services, employment supports, and networking opportunities
- Coaching and mentoring employers and apprentices
- Providing workshops to prepare tradeswomen to write their Red Seal exam
- Helping women to consider trades and take steps to explore the many options
The Office is funded by the federal government through the Women in Construction Funding Program with in-kind and financial supports from the Atlantic Canada Regional Council of Carpenters, Millwrights, and Allied Workers.
The Office is there to support all women in trades, from those interested in working with small companies, to large contractors and those interested in working with the Construction Association and trades unions as well.
“Sometimes union work is not in the women’s best interest if the work is located too far from home, as she may have barriers that limit her with travel, childcare needs, etc.”
Cheryl says trades careers are a great opportunity to learn, grow, and develop every day, while making a good living. “There are endless opportunities.”
She knows first-hand what it takes to work in trades and balance a busy life. She is a Power Engineer and a single parent of four girls. She went to Holland College to learn her trade after she moved home from Alberta, where she studied Petroleum Engineering Technology.
“In Alberta, there were many situations where I was the only woman, and I had some great support and some tough times. Some of the work sites where I worked in were great, and others were not. I am stubborn, and because I believe in equal rights, I stood my ground.”
Back on PEI, she worked for a local food processing plant. She worked her way up the ranks to become a supervisor.
“Even on the Island, previous co-workers told me that I should not be in a boiler room because I am a woman with children. They did not think I could cover all the overtime. I never missed a shift, but I couldn’t do all the overtime because it is hard to find overnight childcare, and I wanted some time home with my family.
“I wish I would have had a support system or someone to vent to, as I was a lone duck for many years. When I went for the job interview for my present position, I offered to be a mentor if I was not the successful candidate for the position. I was very fortunate to be offered the position, my work/life balance is a lot better, and I feel like I am actually helping.”
Women on PEI now connected to Office to Advance Women Apprentices-PEI
Melissa Smith from Charlottetown is a member of the Carpenters Union. She was laid off to do her first block in Carpentry, and will begin work again after she writes the block test.
Melissa took the Holland College Heritage Retrofit Carpentry and the Cabinetmaking programs, and then decided to take Wood Manufacturing to hone her skills a bit more. “I now am a union member and I get good pay. When I first started I was the only female in the union on PEI, but now there are about six women. Before I met Cheryl, I was fighting the battle on my own. Now, I know who I can go to.”
Melissa’s goal is to earn her Red Seal in Carpentry. “I want to prove to myself and others that it can be done.”
Tanya Penny from Stratford is doing drywall work. “I like working with my hands, and working with drywall suits me. I like to make sure it looks perfect.
“I hope to stay on the Island for now. However, being with the union will give me options to move to other different provinces, which might work out well.”
Deanna Arsenault from Wellington is exploring trades options. Her interest in trades was sparked by her brother, who is in his fourth year of his plumbing apprenticeship. She completed the Trades HERizons program, which helps women explore trade options.
“At the age of 40, I wanted to try something new and I am very blessed I took the program. I always wanted to be a welder, but when I tried it first-hand, I found I have difficulty with hand-eye coordination. If I would have taken the welding program, I would have wasted my money.
“I like cabinetmaking and plumbing, but I have not decided yet. Through the Office to Advance Women Apprentices, Cheryl’s support has opened my eyes to different views and has opened doors.”
Frankie Walsh from Charlottetown has worked with her father for the past two years at his welding shop in Morrell. “I would like to sign up as an apprentice welder and advance my career by earning my Red Seal.
“Before working with my father, I was trying to decide which career direction to take. I went to UPEI for two years, took the Child and Youth worker program at Holland College, and then started the welding program. The support from the Office to Advance Women Apprentices is great because I know there is someone there to help me reach my goals. It is a lot harder on my own.”
The Office to Advance Women Apprentices will hold networking events for tradeswomen and women interested in the trades on the first Thursday of every month at their office on John Yeo Drive in Charlottetown. They will also hold events in the eastern and western ends of the Island and work directly with all employers to help them build inclusive workplaces.
For more information, call 902-201-2922, or email [email protected].
Funded through the Federal Government’s Women in Construction Fund.