An untapped resource 

Part of the solution to the construction industry’s labour shortage may be supporting women in the trades

click to enlarge Krista Humphrey left the "pink ghetto" to become a tile setter. Photo by Dave Steers.
  • Krista Humphrey left the "pink ghetto" to become a tile setter. Photo by Dave Steers.

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 we needed.”

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.”

Greater female 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 front.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • When soft meets hard

    What happens when women meet the muscle of a gnarly mountain-biking trek? They ace it.
    • Jun 12, 2016
  • Carving a new reputation

    Skateboarders work toward renovations
    • Apr 30, 2015

Latest in Feature Story

  • A Vital Talent Incubator

    Over 20 Canadian features have been made and hundreds of filmmakers mentored thanks to professional development programs at the Whistler Film FestivalThe Future
    • Dec 4, 2016
  • Desperately seeking Vertbag

    As the mountains open for another ski season, Caitlin Shea cracks last winter's biggest mystery to reveal Whistler's most hard-core and enigmatic skier
    • Nov 24, 2016
  • Stuart Rempel of Whistler Blackcomb looks to the future

    After 16 years with WB, marketing chief says goodbye as Vail Resorts takes over
    • Nov 24, 2016
  • More »

More by Erica Osburn

© 1994-2016 Pique Publishing Inc., Glacier Community Media

- Website powered by Foundation