Building jobs for the future

Conference targets Indigenous, immigrant women for jobs in the construction industry


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Carol Paul is busy.

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Carol Paul is busy.

Last Wednesday, she flitted around the Manitoba Construction Sector Council’s second-ever women in trades conference.

Later, there would be school visits to organize, companies to connect with. Filling an estimated 4,800 Manitoban construction job openings over the next five years will not be as simple as posting positions online, Paul said.

“There’s that disconnect,” the MCSC’s executive director said. “(People) need to know ‘What company? Where’s the jobs? When can I start?’”

Recruiting needs to be “direct (and) deliberate,” Paul said. So, the Manitoba Construction Sector Council is working with partners, like Seven Oaks School Division and River East Collegiate, to sit down with trades students and match them to appropriate employers or job banks.

“We’re really going to be more engaged with those participants and say… ‘What specifically do you want? Let us help you find that,’” Paul said.

Meantime, Wednesday’s conference sold out: 42 booths aligned in a Victoria Inn space, ready to recruit staff and promote their brand. The all-day event drew 440 participants, including Indigenous women from Berens River and Cross Lake, immigrants and students at vocational programs.

Women account for roughly four per cent of the 46,900 workers in Manitoba’s construction industry.

“Let’s hope it’ll go up to at least 10 (per cent),” Paul said.

There’s a need for underrepresented groups to fill gaps in the construction industry, according to Nicole Chabot, vice-president of L. Chabot Enterprises.

“We’re going to find ourselves in a pretty dire predicament (otherwise),” Chabot said. “There’s going to be projects, ultimately, that don’t get completed.”

Denied infrastructure projects will negatively affect Manitobans’ quality of life, she said.

The MCSC anticipates 4,500 construction workers — 11 per cent of the industry — will retire by 2027.

“(Hiring) has been wild, to put it mildly,” Chabot said.

A loader operator position used to attract 60 to 80 applications overnight, she said. Of those, about half might be qualified.

Now, the same opening may garner 20 resumés “if we’re lucky,” with half or less worth calling, Chabot said.

“We have people where, we’re calling them and saying, ‘You have the qualifications we’re seeking. We’d like to speak to you to have you start immediately,’” she said. “We sometimes don’t even get a call back.”

There are stigmas to break — construction is dirty, too physical, for men, Chabot said.

“There are a ton of other options besides shovelling dirt or tying rebar,” she said, adding she’s known women in the industry throughout her nearly 30 years of experience.

Employers need to adapt their policies to meet the changing workforce, she added.

“When someone comes to me and says, ‘It’s really important that I get off at a certain time because I need to be at my kid’s soccer game’… you want to be able to accommodate that,” Chabot said.

It might mean parents work an additional short shift a different day, she added.

“We do have a lot of women who come in, but they don’t necessarily stay,” said Mary Van Buren, the president of the Canadian Construction Association.

There have been changes to keep women around, including progression on female personal protective equipment, Van Buren said.

Vivica Green sat in the crowd Wednesday, watching Van Buren — the keynote speaker — discuss the industry and her own journey.

“When I was first interested in (construction), people would doubt me,” Green, 20, said. “Hearing all that, I was like, ‘OK, yeah, watch me do it.’”

She’s with Clan Mothers Turtle Lodge, where members are trained on different aspects of the construction industry. The women have studied design and framing over the past couple months.

“The program is really good,” Green said. “(Construction is) not as hard as it looks.”

The group of Indigenous women plan to build a healing village — including a knowledge centre and cabin huts — on 160 acres in Belair next year.

Afterwards, Green expects to get her Red Seal and return to her home community of Bloodvein First Nation.

“I’m basically doing this for me, my family and for everyone who doubted me,” Green said.

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

Wednesday’s conference included sessions on attracting and retaining women in construction, the role of high school apprenticeship programs and breaking barriers to create more diverse workplaces.

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché

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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