Saturday, April 24, 2010

Canada's Construction Sector Council hosts symposium to discuss lack of women in trades

The Canadian construction industry is taking steps to address the longstanding shortage of women in the industry as it grapples with an ongoing labour shortage.

An initial step in that campaign was the first-ever industry-sponsored symposium addressing barriers to women in the industry and possible solutions.

“What we were looking at was to position this issue as a leadership challenge,” said Rosemary Sparks, senior director of planning and development with the Construction Sector Council (CSC).

“Clearly, it stands to reason that leadership has a role to play because we are talking about a cultural change.”

About 50 people from a wide cross-section of industry — including women’s groups, trades women, business, labour, construction associations, government and owners — participated in the one-day event in Toronto.

“The idea of the symposium is when people leave the room and they go back to their place of work, they look at how they can make a change in their environment,” said Sparks.

The Canadian construction industry is taking steps to expand the domestic labour pool by improving access to industry careers for older workers, Aboriginal people, immigrants and women.

“The symposium was unique, because this time it was initiated by industry,” said George Gritziotis, executive director of the Construction Sector Council (CSC).

“The industry was saying we have to take a look at the systematic issues that need to be addressed. We talk a lot about women in the construction industry, but the reality is that the number of women on tools and in professional occupations has not changed dramatically.”

According to a report produced by the CSC, which also focused on the state of women in construction, the numbers of women in the construction industry and their participation rate has not grown much over time.

The number of women in registered trades apprenticeships in Canada more than tripled (from 12,480 to 38,070) between 1996 and 2007.

But while the total number of women registering in trades apprenticeship has gone up, they still represent a very small — albeit growing — percentage of total apprentices.

The failure of education to target girls for careers in construction was cited as a key reason why women’s participation in construction is not increasing more significantly.

Hard physical labour, working outside, the cyclical nature of work, the hours, travel and discrimination against women also discourages girls and women from choosing construction careers, experts say.

Another reason there are not more women in the construction trades is the high rate of turnover among female workers.

The CSC is using its report and the symposium as the foundation for producing a strategy that will identify and document industry’s best practices in recruitment, apprenticeship training and education, hiring/employment, and the workplace.

One possible recommendation is to increase pre-apprenticeship programming to prepare more women to enter the trades and expose them to construction workplaces before career training.

This would involve work-hardening experiences to prepare women to be more fully equipped to succeed in gender-segregated construction workplaces.

At another level, there is a need to provide employment placement services, ongoing supports and mentoring from women in the construction trades.


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Construction careers

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