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Trades Experience that’s Right On Point for Women: Trade Journey

Success for a woman in the trades has a new path. Being a woman in a male-dominated industry such as the trades can pose several barriers and can be especially difficult for women who are unsure about how to break into the industry. However, YWCA Saskatoon’s Trade Journey program actively pushes against those stereotypes and works to prepare women for a career in the trades industry where women are underrepresented.

Shirley Bonnetrouge, an assistant manager for Trade Journey, speaks about the many ways in which the program assists women who are trying to get involved in the trades:

“Trades have been traditionally a male-dominated industry, which is a challenge in itself,” Bonnetrouge admits. “Although the women may have the same technical skills in the trades as their counterpart male co-workers, they feel challenged to prove themselves worthy, which means that they feel like they have to work harder just to be accepted. Programs such as Trade Journey help to educate both the industry and the women to rise to this challenge.”

To help increase women’s involvement in the trades, the YWCA Trade Journey program helps women succeed by providing the skills, resources, and equipment to get them started.

“Trade Journey is a 16-week program designed to help women transition from minimum wage jobs into the trades industr[ies] as either a plumber, electrician or carpenter by providing 13 weeks of classroom instruction for confidence building, job readiness skills, math, fitness, tickets needed for the worksite and purchasing Personal Protective Equipment. Along with this, [YWCA Saskatoon partners with] SK Polytechnic to provide hands on training in each trade culminating in a 3-week work placement,” Bonnetrouge explains.

The program teaches women these skills in phases­–the first phase includes the necessary skills, safety, and fitness training, as well as basic training in carpentry, plumbing, and electrical trades, following that women in the program have a 3-week work job placement where they work for industry employers.

“The women will learn required math skills needed for trades,” Bonnetrouge said.  “They will be taught to use power tools, measure and cut wood for a project, how to wire a shed with lights and 3-way switches and make an extension cord, [and] they will learn how to rough in a bathroom system. Partnering with SK Polytechnic, the women will learn the basics of all 3 trades: carpentry, electrical and plumbing.”

Phase two is focused on helping these women in their job search and job maintenance and lastly phase three involves providing support for women as they work toward their apprenticeship.

“Trade Journey not only equips the women with the tangible equipment such as hard hats, steel-toed boots, visibility vests, safety gloves and glasses, along with safety tickets such as SCOT/WHMIS, Fall Arrest, etc., but what is equally important is the intangible things as soft skills, communication, team working, math skills, technical trades skills and confidence awareness, and workplace realities course,” Bonnetrouge explains. “These are the things that will help women be prepared to work and thrive in the trades.”

Jaclyn Brass completed the Trade Journey from August to December in 2016 but her journey did not begin as expected. Upon applying, Brass went to complete her fitness assessment only to be told that she had high blood pressure and, as a result, would not be able to move further in the application process. Feeling defeated and angry, Brass left unsure about where to go with her career. Upon hearing this news, Bonnetrouge reached out to Brass, encouraged her to go to her doctor and seek a doctor’s note to determine her fitness level and clear her for physical work.

With this resurgence of motivation, Brass did just that and landed one of the coveted 15 seats available out of 100 women that also applied into the program.

“It gave me experience to work in the trades,” Brass stated. “The trainers show you boot camp style exercises like what you would experience on worksites. [T]he teacher gives math lessons that comes in handy at work [and] also prepared us for job interviews.”

Now, Brass is a self-employed general contractor with a crew of men who work for her, renovating homes. She credits the Trade Journey in getting her to where she is today because it gave her skills that she needed to start her own business.

“It helped me become a strong, outspoken, [and] assertive woman who was encouraged to never give up. I use all three trades they taught at work. The experience is amazing and right on point with my career.”

Brass has since come full circle in that she will be paying it forward by sharing her story on July 9th  at a YWCA Lunch & Learn with the current cohort of the Trade Journey program. Brass will speak about why she chose the trades, her application process, and how the experience has supplemented her success.

by Lyndall Mack

Photo of Trade Journey participants in the shop by Dave Stobbe