That is changing, thanks to improved awareness, more apprenticeship and mentoring programs, plus a societal shift in attitudes about women working in skilled trades. It is a rich and diverse world with more than 150 professions identified, including plumbers, electricians, mechanics, and carpenters. And women today are ready to become a bigger part of it.

Changing perceptions

The reasons behind the lack of women in Canada’s skilled trades are varied. “If they are not choosing these careers, it’s because they are not being made aware of them or not being encouraged to consider them,” says Gail Smyth, Executive Director, Skills Ontario, based in Kitchener, Ontario.

Common misconceptions about women in the trades still linger. “We may perceive that skilled trades are not good jobs for women, when in fact the trades offer women good pay and benefits, flexible work hours, and rewarding work with unlimited opportunities,” according to Smyth. “The need for skilled trades never decreases so job security and stability are not concerns that may exist in other careers.”

"Raising awareness is a cornerstone to attracting women to skilled trades."

Women may still feel that careers in skilled trades lack creativity, that they require superior physical strength, and that battling sexism is a daily occurrence. There is also a belief that the trades are just for people who don’t excel in academics. On all counts, this simply is not the case.  

“The truth is skilled trades require individuals with a strong academic foundation in reading, writing, math, and sciences,” Smyth explains. “And physical work does not imply strength. In fact, skilled trades require dexterity, stamina, and good hand-eye coordination — attributes men and women possess equally.”

By not pursuing careers in the trades, women are missing out. “The rewards of this field are numerous,” says Tammy Evans, a Construction and Land Development Lawyer at Toronto’s Blaney McMurtry and Director with the Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC). “Financial wellbeing, tangible job satisfaction, you see the results of your work very quickly,” Evans adds. There is a “stable environment… and an ability to specialize and to pursue career growth.” Plus, women can be their own boss and set up their own small businesses.

Overcoming barriers

Raising awareness is a cornerstone to attracting women to skilled trades.

Mentorship also plays an important role. Newcomers can gather information from those in the field, demystify negative perceptions of careers, and network with other women working in the skilled trades.
With apprenticeships, you can earn while you learn, eliminating the heavy debt load experienced by many students who choose a post-secondary education through a college or a university. After completion, full-time employment is the goal.

Ann Buller, President and CEO of Centennial College, also points out that industry organizations and unions are also doing their part. “They want to welcome women, too” she says. “And they want to set high standards of professionalism. It’s indicative of how society has grown up. We really have come a long way.”