Becca Peters was in the middle of a bachelor of business program when she decided that it wasn’t something she wanted to make a career out of. While she knew she was in the wrong program, she still didn’t know what to do.
Though always interested in trades, Peters was wary about entering a male-dominated industry. It was then that she heard about the Women in Trades exploratory program through a friend.
“I heard about the program through a friend of mine. She was already enrolled in the course and I was in the middle of a bachelor of business program and didn’t know what to do,” Peters said. “She said come apply and I was eligible, so she told me about it, I applied and was accepted.”
Unlike full trades programs, where girls like Peters would have to contend with mostly male classmates and male instructors, Women in Trades allows women to experiment with multiple different trades, all the while gaining the confidence they need to succeed in whichever trade they end up choosing.
“I don’t know how to say it without sounding weird about it, but it is hard being a woman in the trades and it’s hard to gain the confidence to go into a foundation and work in trades, it’s really hard,” Peters said. “We hear these horror stories about being a woman in trades, but the program is designed to build women’s confidence and show us that we can do it too.”
The program, which started eight years ago, was originally funded by the Industry Training Authority of B.C. (ITA), says Heather Hamilton, TRU’s School of Trades industry and contract training manager. At the time, the ITA funded multiple different exploratory programs with the express purpose of making up for the province’s skilled labour shortages.
“The Industry Training Authority had identified that to meet the skill shortages, we needed non-traditional people coming into the trades,” Hamilton said. “So they don’t fit the typical demographics that people think for trades. So the ITA is funding for immigrants, Indigenous peoples and women in order to meet the skill shortages.”
More specifically, much of the funding that comes from the ITA was for underemployed low-income women who planned to continue into a trades foundation program. Additional funding for TRU’s Women in Trades program also comes from RBC.
“From the success that we had we wrote a proposal to RBC and we ended up getting, about four or five years ago, $700,000 from them, just because of the success we had with the Women in Trades,” Hamilton said.
The program itself allows women to take six or seven different trades for a couple weeks each in order to get a feel for what they would like to do. In addition to this, they also get certification for safety tickets and the chance to work on essential skills.
Though it depends on the availability of different instructors and shop space, the program tries to use as many female instructors as possible.
“We try to use as many female instructors as possible because they see role models and the students see themselves in their female instructors,” Hamilton said.
With a 50 per cent follow-through rate to foundation programs, Hamilton marks the program as a huge success and of great benefit to the women enrolled.
“Women haven’t had the same opportunities to experience the trades. You only know what you know, and at the end of the day, if you can’t put your hands on it, you can’t smell it, you can’t feel it, how can you make a decision about that,” Hamilton said. “It’s a supportive environment where you can try something out and ask if it will be a fit for you.”
For her part, Peters believes that the program has given her more than just life skills, but confidence too.
“Everything that program gives you, whether it is a safety certification or experience in a trade or just the confidence and social skills and learning how to be in a shop environment and work with tools and use your hands, stuff like that, it’s just fantastic,” she said.