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College offers path to the building trades for women

Okanagan College offering women chance to try their hand at a variety of trades
Johanna Greieve (left) and Laura Penney are thankful for the instruction they received through the Okanagan College. The two will be eligible to test for their Red Seal certificate in cabinetmaking after their fourth year of school later this year. Mark Brett/Western News

While it is typically a male-dominant industry, for the past 10 years the Okanagan College has been giving women in the area a leg up in pursuing a successful career in the trades.

The college’s Women in Trades Training offers an 11-week exploratory Gateway to the Building Trades for Women program that allows participants to try their hand at numerous skills. This session will see its 1000th woman enter trade training in June.

“This program gets women’s hands on a lot of different tools in a lot of different trades, and after the 11 weeks we’re hoping that they can make an informed decision about which trade they want to enter for their career,” said Nancy Darling, the program administrator. “When they make a decision - carpentry, welding, plumbing, whatever it is - then they take that next step and go into a trades foundation program, the second phase of training we offer.”

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Following these courses, participants can also opt into the Employment Readiness Training which provides supplemental certifications. Darling said this could include fall protection, confined space, and any other certificate that would make these women preferred candidates for an employer.

“So for the 11-week program, our goal is for the women to try six or seven different trades to get their hands on the tools, they have a variety of small projects and then a larger group project that the whole class does,” said Darling. “We like to leave the group-built project in the community wherever we are running. Very often we’ve built for animal rescues, we’ve built a garden shed for SORCO and a horse barn for Critteraid.”

Darling said the exploratory program begins with two weeks of safety training and then “they jump right into carpentry,” learning about framing and joinery or cabinetmaking. They’ll go on to try welding, electrical, plumbing, sheet metal and automotive.

“We’re getting them to try a bunch of things to try and see where their hidden skills might lie,” said Darling. “They might realize when they start the plumbing program that it’s much easier for them putting different pipes together or they might just have a certain aptitude or knack for certain things they’re not aware of yet.”

This program does not require any prior training, just a genuine interest in a career in trades. Darling said they have to be eligible for the college’s funding in order to get a sponsorship to the program.

“Very often we sponsor women for this program. So this means they’re not working, or they’re working at an entry-level job but struggling to move forward, that sort of thing,” said Darling. “We’re helping out women who have had a difficult time connecting with the labour market so they can make a more meaningful connection.”

Darling said over 96 per cent of the women that see their training through to the end will find work. This was the case for Johanna Greieve and Laura Penney, who both entered into the exploratory program in 2015.

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“I was a stay-at-home mom for like eight years and then suddenly my life changed and I needed to start a career fast,” said Greieve. “I went to the college looking into becoming an education assistant, but I saw a poster for the women in trades so I inquired about that. It was just a fit, it was going to provide me with the financial security and job security (I needed).”

“I had only ever been in customer service jobs, and I knew I always wanted to get into the trades but I didn’t know how,” said Penney. “I actually saw a post on Instagram about the program, so I made an inquiry and they pushed me to go for it.”

The two bonded as they went through the program together, both choosing to pursue carpentry at the end of the 12-week program. They will be entering their fourth year of school later this year and will be eligible after that to go for their Red Seal.

“(During the program) I got the vibe like trades needs women, we need to change the demographics of this industry,” said Greieve. “I found they were really supportive with anything we needed.”

Both women said they initially wanted to enter welding, but quickly determined they did not enjoy the trade during the exploratory course. Now they are employed full-time and apprenticing at Greyback Construction.

“I think taking that program, as opposed to just going into the trades, knowing that I was going in it with other women who hadn’t necessarily done trades before. I didn’t feel like I was going to look foolish or be out of my league, we were all learning together and it made it that much more enjoyable,” said Penney.

“It was very intimidating because I’d never even picked up a saw before, let alone hammering anything,” laughed Penney.

Greieve said the program is nice because there’s no such thing as a dumb question and the instructors break down the course and start with the absolute basics.

“It’s amazing to see the changes throughout the program, just to see the changes in some people in that short period of time of how they went from someone who has never used a saw or a hammer gain that skill,” said Greieve.

“It was about the confidence for sure,” added Penney.

The Gateway to the Building Trades for Women program is hosting an information session at the Okanagan College Penticton campus on Feb. 5 and the program will run from April 15 to June 28. The info session runs 5 to 6 p.m. in room PC130.

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Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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