Updated: Mar 30, 2022
Working in the trades has several benefits that are rarely spoken about. In Ontario alone, there is a shortage of 100,000 tradespeople. If you know anything about supply and demand, this means the wages for tradespeople are about to increase. The Ontario government has already started making considerable investments in skilled trades.
I sat down (virtually) with my longtime friend Bella to talk about her journey as a woman in the trades.
Photo Description: Bella is conducting a visual inspection and ultrasonic thickness readings on the U channels of a Sulphur prill tower in a Petzel Avao harness.
“Ontario continues to face a generational labour shortage. To build a stronger Ontario and grow our economy we need all hands on deck. Every day, there are hundreds of thousands of paychecks waiting to be collected.”-Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development
We spoke about her perspective on the trades and the process to become a rope access technician and a foreperson.
1. What college/university were promoted to you when you were in high school?
"There was a push for students to get into business and communications programs. My guidance counsellor pushed for me to get into engineering, and it's the one time I should have listened to them. One teacher encouraged going to college for a skilled trade or taking time off of school and returning as a mature student. Now that I think back, it was good advice.
In high school, I was interested in carpentry. However, it didn't fit within the required courses I would need to be accepted into university.
I went to school for a Bachelor of Arts in Kinesiology and Health Science. I attended York University on an athletic scholarship. Sports and health were the only things I knew at 17 years old, so I decided to expand on them."
2. How did you learn about a career in the trades?
"There has always been a legend in the GTA about "oilfield money" in the west of Canada. I decided to move to Alberta to check it out. My trade is a non-compulsory trade, meaning you don't need to go to school to earn a licence. You can move throughout the company or within your trade.
When I started working in the trades, my goal was to pay off my students loans and now here I am, six years later, still in the industry. "
3. What was your first introduction to the trades?
"When I was younger, my dad had a renovation company and worked in the business when I was growing up. He did landscaping, construction and renovations. Within his company, he also did asbestos abatement.
Watching him and working with him was my first introduction to the skilled trades."
4. Can you tell me what you do in your current job?
"I have two trades. I am a non-ticketed journeyman, which means I have all the hours and experience to claim journeyperson status, my first trade."
Journeyperson Status: a worker who has learned a trade and works for another person, usually by the day
"My second trade is as a rope access technician. I am level 3, the highest level before you are considered an instructor or accessor. That deems me a supervisor/safety officer in the rope access technician world.
I combine my two trades while at work. I am the head foreperson in my region and a level 3 rope access technician, so I am at the supervisory level on both ends of the trade."
5. What types of environments do tradespeople work in?
"I've been working primarily in oil and gas, so I work in extraction sites, refineries and jobs in mines. You can also expect to work in any area that is difficult to access with scaffolding. You will see us working on bridges, building maintenance, windmill inspections and window cleaning. Anywhere that is difficult to access, that's where you will find us.
A small group of Rope Access Technicians also do rigging for films and Cirque du Soleil."
6. How many women work on the site?
"The percentage is very small. I can go three weeks without seeing another woman on the site. Based on what I've seen, there are more women in my trade. Sometimes we will have 4 women on the job.
When I look at other trades, they usually have one of none."
7. How long have you been in the trades, and what has changed over time?
"I have been working in the trades since 2009 as a highrise window cleaner. I think women have become more interested in the skilled trades and continue to battle through the challenges. Several trades programs in colleges allow women to attend the training for free.
Also, the workplace culture is adjusting. It's been slow, but it's a work in progress."
8. What do you think can be done to make the trades more welcoming for women?
"Overall, we need to start destigmatizing blue-collar work. We will always need blue-collar workers. There is a deficit of blue collars workers right now. I also want to highlight that skilled trades workers can earn a lot of money, and I view that as a win. It would be nice for people to know there are other options.
Specifically for women in the trades, we are doing an excellent job of advocating for ourselves and the generation that comes after us. I think it would be valuable if women had the same opportunities for mentorship and not just think we are there for an easy time."
9. What would be your advice to someone interested in working in the skilled trades?
"Try to find people in the trades that can guide you along the way. I would also say there are so many trades, so feel free to switch trades so you can find something you enjoy.
Personally, working in the trades allows me to have a lot of flexibility in my schedule, we are well compensated, and there are many growth opportunities. Working in the trades provides many networking opportunities to meet other tradespeople (electricians, plumbers, general contractors) who can help you with simple projects around the house.
I think working in the trades is also more conducive to different learning styles, and there is more room to be yourself."