The 2010 Olympics;
employment opportunities in Alberta; the exodus of baby boomers from the work
force — these are just three of the factors cited when the cost of construction
escalates in B.C.
On a recent Global TV
newscast, it was reported that skilled workers from Jamaica have been flown in
to assist with the construction of Kelowna's new five-lane floating bridge. “We
searched across Canada,” said the contractor, “but we couldn’t find the labour
Flying workers in from
Jamaica is not a long-term solution to the labour crunch that B.C. is
experiencing. But there is a largely untapped resource that could keep
construction projects on schedule, and keep workers in the province: women.
“The percentage of women
in the trades has not changed much in the last 20 years,” says Meg Herweier, a
former BCIT carpentry instructor who is currently the apprentice training
coordinator for the Washington Marine Group in Vancouver. Overall participation
of women in the construction trades has remained at around three per cent for
the last decade. “It is discouraging to find that there have not been significant
strides made here,” says Herweier. “There is no reason that women cannot work
in the trades in equal numbers to men.”
A recent study by Heather
Mayer and Kate Braid of Simon Fraser University concluded that the number of
women working in the construction trades has remained low — from 0.7 per cent
in 1971, to 3.1 per cent in 2006. Retention of women in the industry is a
concern: while greater numbers of women enter apprenticeship programs, few
complete the four years required to get their journey ticket. A ticket leads to
higher wages, greater job security, and a designation that is recognized across
Canada and abroad.
There are few women
working on Whistler construction projects, but the ones who have chosen to work
in the industry enjoy good incomes. Annual earnings in the construction trades
start at $50,000, and can climb to $250,000, according to the B.C. Construction
Association. In an August Globe and Mail article profiling women working on
Alberta’s construction sites, a 24-year-old woman, who left a clerical job to
become an apprentice millwright and doubled her income, said: “women who don’t
consider (construction) are just uninformed.”
participation in the construction trades starts with awareness and
encouragement — something that doesn’t seem to be happening in the high
schools, where boys have always looked at trades as an alternative to
university. Lindy Monahan, project manager of the B.C. Construction
Association’s Step Program for Women, says female participation in construction
trades will remain low unless attitudes change, both in schools and on the home
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