Transforming the trades

With labour shortage looming, construction industry welcomes more women workers

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Sietta Marsden doesn’t wear pink hard hats.

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Sietta Marsden doesn’t wear pink hard hats.

She made an exception Wednesday — after all, she travelled roughly 250 km to Winnipeg from Pinaymootang First Nation to promote a message.

Her headwear is a statement: I’m a female in construction, come join me.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sietta Marsden, Valedictorian of the 2021 framer course in Pinaymootang First Nation, is excited to move forward in her career in trades and be a mentor to other young women in her community.

“I think my role is to be a spokesperson and encourage more women,” Marsden, 20, said.

She’s in the sliver of Manitoba’s female construction force. Women make up roughly four per cent of the industry’s 46,900 workers.

The Manitoba Construction Sector Council anticipates 4,500 construction workers — 11 per cent of the industry — will retire by 2027. Manitoba must recruit 4,800 workers during the same time period, according to data from BuildForce Canada.

“Employers like myself, we have to start thinking outside of the box,” said Colleen Munro, president of Hugh Munro Construction and chair of the Manitoba Construction Sector Council.

“When I… work in Indigenous communities, I say, ‘We (want) your sisters, your wives,’” Munro said. “It’s not just the men — (though) we’ll take the men, too.”

The council is looking to recruit newcomers, Indigenous people and women. It’s holding a conference Nov. 16 to draw females to the profession.

Marsden said she didn’t consider a trades job in high school. However, she saw an opportunity when a 12-week training course on framing (from the Manitoba Construction Sector Council) came to her community.

“It was definitely something that I knew would help make a career,” Marsden said. “It’s good paying once you work your way up.”

The average hourly wage in the industry was $28.66 in 2021, according to the Winnipeg Construction Association.

Marsden is now building houses in Pinaymootang First Nation. It’s tough being an Indigenous woman in a male-dominated field, but “you learn as you go,” she said.

Andreas Laubstedt can’t pinpoint why more girls aren’t entering construction.

Heavy construction and electrical trades are among the participating industries in Seven Oaks School Division’s vocational cooperative program. They’re largely picked by male Grade 12 and adult education students, Laubstedt, a co-op program lead with the school division, said.

“It’s up to the students to choose where they want to go… but we want them to know that these programs are available to anyone who’s interested in them,” he said.

Early childhood education and health care aide co-ops have more females. However, more girls have been entering automotive trades and plumbing, Laubstedt noted.

“I think it starts from when you’re young,” Munro said. “Parents don’t give the opportunity for their young girls to even think about (construction careers).”

That’s starting to change in homes and schools, she added.

Still, the barriers persist. Some women are turned off by the lack of females in the industry, Munro noted.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Manitoba Construction Sector Council and board chair, Colleen Munro, announces a new initiative to increase the number of women in construction.

“I’m not going to say it’s easy,” she said. “(But) I think people have been learning about being more respectful everywhere in society.”

Workplace culture has improved over the 40 years Munro has been on sites, she said. And, women don’t have to worry about being the strongest in the room — that’s what a team is for, she said.

“You can’t be all things,” Munro said. “You have to take a look at, ‘What do you do that’s a little bit different?’”

Finding childcare, and commuting to job sites, can prevent women from pursuing construction careers, Munro said.

She’ll be at the November conference to discuss being a woman in the industry. The day-long event will have a number of panelists and booths to answer questions and recruit.

Bringing training to First Nations communities is crucial, said Ethel Anderson, Pinaymootang’s employment and training coordinator.

Often, members don’t want to leave their homes and families, or they can’t secure housing in Winnipeg.

“Once they have that accreditation and they leave the community, they have something to fall back on,” Anderson, who’s also president of First Peoples Development Inc., said. “You train the people, you lose them, but… that’s the success that you have, and that’s the success I take with me.”

The Manitoba Construction Sector Council has trained people in 50 of Manitoba’s Indigenous communities. Over the past year, 60 Indigenous women in remote areas have become blast hole drillers, framers and water and waste installers, among other things.

Indigenous people account for 13 per cent of Manitoba’s construction force, while newcomers make up another 15 per cent.

Early bird tickets for the Manitoba Women in Trades Conference cost $150 and, for students, $125; these prices hold until Oct. 21. The event’s profits will go towards trades scholarships for women at local colleges, according to the MCSC.

Seventy-five women in First Nations, immigrant and student communities are being sponsored to attend. Tickets are available on the Manitoba Construction Sector Council’s website.

gabrielle.piche@winnipegfreepress.com

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Reporter

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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