The industrial trades offer a wealth of career advantages to women — high pay, freedom, independence, career satisfaction, and opportunities for advancement. Unionized tradeswomen are also eligible for generous benefits and retirement pensions. Yet women make up only about three to five percent of workers in the construction trade industry, with an even lesser percentage in leadership roles.

Industry association working toward inclusion

With the industry being so male-dominated, trade organizations like the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry (UA Canada) are taking steps to promote diversity within the construction trades and to encourage more women to consider the trades as career options. “It can be a very fulfilling career with room for advancement,” says Alanna Marklund, the National Manager of Youth, Diversity and Indigenous Relations with UA Canada. “Once you’ve earned your Red Seal ticket, no one can take it away from you. You will always have something practical to fall back on. It’s a skill set you’ll never lose, and it provides opportunity to open many doors in your career.”

Within the UA construction trades, women can become plumbers, pipefitters/steamfitters, sprinkler fitters, welders, instrumentation technicians, and refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics. As they gain experience, they can advance to leadership positions, such as trade school instructors, site supervisors, project managers, and quality control inspectors.

Marklund — a Red Seal journeyman welder herself —  believes more opportunities to participate in the decision-making process will help women advance in the trades. “The diverse perspectives and opinions that women bring to this process are very important not only for recruiting women, but also for retaining them and having them advance to senior leadership positions,” she says.  “Even for things like maternity leave, it’s going to bring about those conversations, ensuring that women at the table have a say as well.”

Learn on the job

Unlike many jobs where a college or university degree is required up front, a trade is something one learns through a combination of on-the-job and classroom training through a three- to five-year apprenticeship program. “You’re not born with these skills, they’re learned, and that’s why it’s important to have women coming into the trades, so we can teach women apprentices how to do it, and set an example for the new workforce,” says Marklund.

What kinds of women are suited for the trades? Marklund says trade jobs are ideally suited for women with a positive attitude and strong work ethic who aren’t afraid to get a little dirty and who enjoy seeing a project go from start to finish. “You can drive by a building later in life and say, I helped build that.”