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This article was published 21/2/2019 (360 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Efforts to attract and retain more women in the building trades received a $3.14 million boost from the federal government for a program that will focus on supporting women in trades in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.
The program has already organized a partnership group of about 75 governments, unions, employers and training centres in those three provinces. With two staff members based in Winnipeg (and two more in each of Regina and Halifax) they will provide assistance in whatever form is necessary to help ensure women in the building trades are on equal footing in the workplace.
Lindsay Amundsen, the Ottawa-based director of workforce development for Canada’s Building Trades Unions, is heading up the initiative which will be part of its Women in Trades Program.
"The problem is women are getting into the field and then they are leaving." she said. "We need to look at why they are leaving."
She said the program — with the unfortunate bureaucratic handle, An Innovative Model to Enhance Entry, Advancement, and Employment Outcomes of Women Apprentices — will create a registry data bank of female and trades people and its work will involve going out to talk to employers and the unions.
"We'll be going on the job sites, getting at the job opportunities, coaching and mentoring," Amundsen said. "We'll be looking at workplace culture issues and pointing out 'that is harassment', 'that is discrimination' (when necessary)."
Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, gave an impassioned speech about the important role unions play in the creation and sustenance of the middle class in Canada.
She acknowledged that she was "preaching to the converted," but she said, "When you leave people behind we miss out on their potential to be full contributors to society. We also pay an expense for what happens when people are left behind. Not only is this the right thing to do, it is the economically smart thing to do."
The announcement was made at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 2085 offices in Winnipeg, which has 50 women journeymen and apprentices among its membership.
A number of them were present for the announcement and expressed appreciation for the efforts. One said it will be important to have a voice and another said it will good to have the chance to talk to other women who have had similar experiences.
Meagan Robinson, a journeyman electrician, said, "For the most part the men I have worked with have been open to working with a female colleague. It has been pretty good. But sometimes I feel I have to work a little harder than the men. That's not always the case and it may just be my feelings and not necessarily the feelings of the people I am working with."
Russ Shewchuk, business manager at IBEW 2085, said his local has been working at increasing the number of female apprentices and journeymen for the past five years and that the federal funding will help carry on those efforts.
He said sexism in the workplace is sometimes a barrier. "We're working to get over that," he said.
Sudhir Sandhu, the CEO of Manitoba Building Trades which represents 8,000 skilled trades workers in Manitoba, said the number of women in the industry in Manitoba is very low.
"We're just starting to make a small dent in the universe by changing the intake," he said. "Having this office launching simultaneous to our starting to increase the number of women in the trades will be a great corollary effort.
He said the goal is to get membership to 10 per cent women. Currently in some trades in Manitoba women account for as few as two per cent of the journeymen.
"Our numbers are not good," Sandhu said.
Over the next three and a half years the program is targeted to assist up to 750 women apprentices spread across the three provinces. (Labour officials said that initiatives already exist elsewhere in the country.) A special effort will be made to recruit and assist between 75 and 100 Indigenous women over the life of the project.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.