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BuildForce, WBF partner to attract women to construction

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by Angela Gismondi

BuildForce Canada and Women Building Futures (WBF) are collaborating to encourage more women to pursue careers in construction.
Women Building Futures and BuildForce Canada have joined forces to encourage more women to choose a career in construction. Details pertaining to the collaboration are expected in the new year.
Women Building Futures and BuildForce Canada have joined forces to encourage more women to choose a career in construction. Details pertaining to the collaboration are expected in the new year. - Photo: WOMEN BUILDING FUTURES

The two groups share a number of common goals, including boosting the number of women in construction and helping the industry fill the skills vacuum as baby boomers retire.

"We have some mutually aligned goals around ensuring the construction industry has the workforce it's going to require now and for the future. We're both, in different ways, encouraging women coming into the industry," said Rosemary Sparks, executive director of BuildForce Canada.

"In the case of Women Building Futures, they've got a really strong, proven track record in supporting the recruitment and preparation and training of women as they become tradespeople. BuildForce, through its work around career awareness-raising activities, has been trying to get the message out to everyone — youth, women, indigenous people, newcomers to Canada — that there are still opportunities in construction."

While details of the collaboration are not yet finalized, JudyLynn Archer, president and CEO of WBF, said it's a great fit. The details are expected to be released in the new year.

"We know why we formed this partnership, but we really need to get that to paper in terms of how the goals are going to be achieved before we can speak specifically about it," said Archer. "It's kind of a no-brainer, we all have the same goal in mind." Data shows that over the next 10 years, one quarter of Canada's construction workforce, or as many as 250,000 skilled construction and maintenance workers, are planning to retire. That's why encouraging women to pursue careers in construction is a necessity, Sparks said.

"We're going to be looking for the brightest and best young people to come to our industry," said Sparks.

"Women represent close to 50 per cent of the workforce and that's a large pool of potential skilled tradespeople and we need to make sure that they are aware of the opportunity and that we can provide the kind of support they need to be successful in their career in construction."

"These are jobs that pay very well," added Archer.

"The average income for women working full time in Canada is around the $32,000 mark, so essentially that means that we've got half the workforce in this country who is seriously underutilized."

The industry experienced a period of incredible growth in the past, Sparks noted, and although growth has been slower recently, it's still active.

"From our point of view, we still need to be putting forward a significant effort to bring people into the industry even though we're in a slower growth period right now," said Sparks.

"We still have to plan for the future and you can't create a tradesperson overnight — you need significant lead time to do that."

While the number of women in construction is increasing, the proportion of women who make up the skilled trades workforce in Canada remains at approximately four to five per cent.

"Even if we could move one per cent of that number, it's a large number," said Archer. "We need to fill those positions. Even if nothing in our economy changes, these tradespeople that are highly skilled, they are retiring, they're not coming back. So regardless of the economy, those are existing positions that need to be filled."

According to Sparks, BuildForce is aiming to raise awareness amongst women that they can have successful, lucrative, rewarding careers in the trades.

"There are a broad range of career opportunities that young people need to be exposed to — construction is one of those," said Sparks.

"Because it has traditionally been a fairly male-dominated industry, I think people tend to not make women as aware of the opportunities as possible."

Women also need to be exposed to successful role models and mentors in the industry, she said.

Going forward, the two organizations will be looking for opportunities to collaborate.

"We want to ensure that when we do something, we're getting a broader reach across the industry, through both of our networks and to also make sure that what we do is useful and workable for the industry and for women coming into the industry," said Sparks.

In addition to benefiting both groups, the collaboration is expected to have a positive impact on the industry as a whole.

"In order for Canada's construction and maintenance industry to remain competitive and able to deliver on investment... when we get big projects, the industry has to actually build those projects and in order to do that you need a highly skilled and mobile workforce, that's the goal for BuildForce," explained Archer.

"For Women Building Futures our mandate is actually helping women achieve economic prosperity through participation in Canada's construction and maintenance industry."

Women represent a workforce available to the industry without having to go outside of Canada, Archer added.

"The statistic that women working full-time make an average of $32,000 a year, that statistic alone is enough to tell the general citizenry that it's definitely time for a change and this is the opportunity to effect that type of change. We're really excited about it," said Archer.

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