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Do It Women workshop series hopes to get more women interested in skilled trades

The beginner-level workshops are being held monthly at YuKonstruct
Madeleine Huaman, left, and Mehak Khan, sand the ends of their plant holders YuKonstruct and Yukon Women in Trades and Technology’s inaugural at Do It Women workshop in Whitehorse on Oct. 7, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

A new workshop series in Whitehorse is hoping to get more women interested and actively involved in the trades.

Do It Women (DIW), a collaboration between YuKonstruct and Yukon Women in Trades and Technology (YWITT), held its inaugural workshop earlier this month at the wood shop in YuKonstruct’s Makerspace in downtown Whitehorse.

A dozen women participated and, under the guidance of a Red Seal carpenter, learned to use hand and power tools to make a wooden planter stand that they took home with them.

It was the first in what’s scheduled to be a monthly event where a tradesperson will introduce participants to the different facilities and tools available in the Makerspace and build up their skills by guiding them through a simple project.

Women do not need to be YuKonstruct members to sign up for the workshops, and a $25 fee for materials can be subsidized if it’s a barrier to a woman participating. YWITT is also provided a try-a-trade program for children participants bring with them.

The series has been a “long time in the making,” YWITT executive director Brenda Barnes told the News in an interview Sept. 23, explaining that her organization had partnered with YuKonstruct before for “one-off” learning sessions, but had lacked the resources to hold consistent programming.

“Part of this is just having the right funding in place, part of that is having the right staff in place and part of it is knowing that we’re answering a demand,” Barnes, a longtime advocate for better gender parity in the trades, said.

“… On a really, really basic level, we just wanted to drive women traffic into the Makerspace.”

The Makerspace, YWITT program coordinator Marie Furman said, can be an intimidating place for anyone who hasn’t spent a lot of time in it.

“So to get women familiar with the wood shop, feel comfortable there, make them want to become members and want to spend more of their time there, that’s really our goal,” she said.

Barnes and Furman said the plan, for now, is to hold eight workshops, up to the end of the fiscal year, and then evaluate the program’s success before deciding what to do next. While some of the remaining workshops are already planned — there will be one hosted in the metal shop, and another on laser-cutting — the pair also said they want to leave room for women to provide feedback on what they want to see and learn. Ideas for other potential offerings that have been floated include automotive repair and maintenance or home systems.

Regardless of the trade, the plan is to keep all the workshops at an entry-level difficulty so all participants will be able to complete the project by the end of the evening.

The wooden planter workshop, Barnes said, sold out in less than two hours of the event being posted. None of the registrants were YuKonstruct members, something, along with how quickly the workshop sold out, Barnes said was encouraging.

“We’re already starting to realize our goal of driving women into that space who have never been there before because every single woman who registered is a non-member of Yukonstruct,” she said.

Barnes said she was hopeful that the workshops will inspire some participants to consider a career in the skilled trades as well. While more women in the Yukon have entered the trades in recent years, proportionally, they still only make up seven per cent of the skilled trades workforce — the same as they did in 2005.

(Nationally, six per cent of trades workers are women, according to YWITT’s 2019 report on Yukon women in the trades.)

“We still need to do a better job of combatting misperceptions that trades are for the students who don’t necessarily achieve academically. There’s an academic bias in terms of recommending skilled trades careers to young people, whether they’re girls or boys,” Barnes said.

“There is still a barrier once women are in the workplace in terms of culture, workplace culture. For women who are entering the apprenticeship system … having an employer that will take them on as an apprentice, that’s still a barrier. And for women who are aging out of physical labour, how do we retain their skill set, their experience and leadership in the workplace?”

“Skilled trades are viable for women, they’re lucrative, and they’re portable and … right now, more than ever there is so much more financial support for women to go through skilled trades training,” she added.

“When we’re talking about a skilled trade labour deficit, can we really afford to exclude 50 per cent of the population from that possibility?”

Women interested in participating in future DIW workshops can check and for updates.

Lacey Ozon uses a mitre saw at Do It Women's inaugural workshop at YuKonstruct in Whitehorse on Oct. 7, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

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