The trades—a valuable pathway

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Skilled trades build strong futures

As a proud union member of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF/FEESO), the transition from trades to teaching has been rewarding as I have always been a strong supporter of trades and was excited to be able to share my love of the field. In the mid-90s, I entered the skilled trades as an ironworker apprentice; I was the first female ironworker and welder in Hamilton’s Ironworkers Local 736. Upon completion of a 6000-hour apprenticeship, I became a journeywoman and had a successful career in the trades for over a decade. Due to a severe injury, I eventually left my beloved trade and retrained as a secondary school teacher where I have been promoting the trades to students, especially to young women, ever since. As well as being a technology teacher in District 20–Halton, I am also an academic teacher qualified through the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) to teach several courses including the mandatory Grade 10 Career Studies course. This course helps guide students towards the various pathways they can take after secondary school. With pleasure, I have witnessed the growing number of students, especially young women, choosing a career pathway in the skilled trades sector. This corresponds to greater opportunities available in secondary schools to promote the trade pathways, and with this increased respect, the trades pathway is now being highlighted for students alongside traditional university or college pathways. Students who are interested in the trades can start preparing for an apprenticeship in high school by taking trades-related courses, like co-op and job skills programs such as the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program or the Specialist High Skills Major Program.

In a 2022 Toronto Star article by Jason Mendard, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at the Centre for Skills Development & Training Lisa Rizzato, is quoted: “While females have made some progress in the TRADE industry, there are still significant barriers preventing women from embracing the skilled trades. Trade training programs targeted at recruiting women, newcomers, and Indigenous people have been around for some time, and ultimately the shift in societal norms acceptance and inclusiveness spills out across all areas of life, including the workplace and improving fair workplace practices around inclusion.”

In the same article, Director of external affairs for Support Ontario Youth (and retired OSSTF/FEESO Secretariat member), Craig Brockwell, notes that, “The construction trades are dominated by men and as such there are tremendous challenges for women entering them.” He continues, “Women need to overcome perceptions that they aren’t as strong as the men or as capable as the men in the performance of their jobs… Nonetheless, more and more companies are actively seeking to hire under-represented groups to their jobs and as such, there are more and more opportunities for young women to gain employment in formally male dominated jobs.”

One of the 2020 Ontario budget’s Three Pillars of Ontario’s Skilled Trades Strategy is “Breaking the Stigma,” to help young people and their parents recognize the skilled trades as exciting, fulfilling, and well-paying career choices. Some of the province’s key initiatives in 2020–2021 to attract and train youth in the skilled trades include “investing $17 million to increase awareness of careers in the skilled trades through the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, which works to present high school students with opportunities to learn about work in the trades, and/or train as apprentices while completing their Ontario Secondary School Diploma; boosting funding by $6 million through Skills Ontario to increase awareness of the trades among elementary and secondary school students.” And while education funding regularly falls short of what is required to meet the needs of all students, the move to recognize skilled trades as valid options for a career path must be recognized as universally strengthening to public education.

I think it’s about time the government gets serious and starts increasing awareness and funding as the trade sector is back peddling trying to fill all the holes in the employment gap in the 140 skilled trades. Last spring, Skilled Trades Ontario launched the framework of their strategic plan. Over 250 industry leaders, educators, and apprentices provided feedback on their areas of focus, thus implementing “National Skilled Trade and Technology Week.” According to Melissa Young, CEO/Registrar, Skilled Trades Ontario, as quoted in a 2023 press release by the organization, it “is all about promoting the many career opportunities in the skilled trades and technology. As demand for skilled workers continues to rise, we need to invest in our workforce and find new ways to help employers adapt and grow.”

There are numerous free tuition programs for entering the trades, including the Six Nations Polytechnic We Are Welders—Women’s Program, which provides opportunities for women applicants. Offered at Six Nations Polytechnic’s training facility in Brantford, Ontario, the 29-week program is designed to equip women with skills, knowledge, and experience in the welding field. Six Nations Polytechnic also aims to ensure their female attendees are career-ready; the curriculum includes a mix of theory and hands-on practical learning activities and comes with an eight-week paid work placement which can potentially lead more women into the fields of metal fabricating, production welding, and ironworking. Conestoga College also offers a tuition free Women in Skilled Trades (WIST) program as a pre-apprenticeship carpenter in which equips women to enter the trade with the basic skills required to secure a position as an apprentice in the industry. The college provides carpentry training and skills needed in the construction industry and provides key employment skills.

Overall, my goal as a technology educator is to teach real world transferable skills and to broaden student perspectives of the opportunities and pathways available to them. As I work through my career as a teacher, I am excited to see more students (young women especially) enter the enticing pathway of the skilled trades sector. The opportunities to access services for skilled trades training are now more accessible than ever, and we are in a key moment of promoting the skilled trades as a career of choice for our students.

About Kristine Banakiewicz
Kristine Banakiewicz (she/her) Teacher, District 20, Halton

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