Women still trail in trades


While Canada’s apprenticeships programs have nearly doubled in popularity since 1991, women are still extremely marginalized in most skilled trades, the vast majority graduating into food services or hair styling.

“In most of the major trade groups the proportion of females was quite low, at between 1% and 2%,” Statistics Canada said in a study released Thursday, Feb. 25.

While women made up approximately 11% of total apprenticeships completed across Canada, their numbers were highly concentrated in traditionally female-dominated industries.

More than two-thirds of women completed apprenticeships in hairstyling and of everyone who went into the food services industry, approximately 80% were women.

And certification programs are no different, the agency’s Education Matters: Insights on Education, Learning and Training in Canada report found.

Only 8.5% of certificates granted in 2007 went to women. The year actually marked a drop from 1991 when 9% were awarded to women.

Meanwhile, only 1% of people certified in construction trades are women, and 0.08% of people certified in automotive trades are women.

Beatrix Dart is the first woman to ever sit on the Board of Directors for Ellis Don, one of Canada’s largest construction firms. She’s also the executive director of Initiatives for Women in Business at Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

For Dart, the lack of women in construction and other traditionally male-dominated trades is largely a problem of perception.

“There are many positions now that women could fulfill just as easily as their male counterparts,” she said. “It’s a shame that there aren’t more women taking up construction trades.”

“The income potential is actually quite wonderful in construction.”

Dart suggested that the desire for a strong social network can also influence where people will apply for work.

“At a hair salon, you’d probably find 80% of the service providers to be female, so it’s easier,” she said. “At a construction site, the social environment is male-dominated and you have to wonder how you’re going to make it work with the boys.

“There are so few women, currently. And unless that changes, women will feel less comfortable entering that environment.”

And so it becomes a catch-22. Women will feel more comfortable entering non-traditional industries when there are more women in non-traditional industries.

But while the gender divide in skilled trades has been static for 20 years, the age gap has begun to shift dramatically.

The report also found a huge increase in certificates granted to people over the age of 40 since 1992, indicating that Canada’s system is in some ways adaptable to the changing needs of the country and that people who need to re-train for a new career later in life are able to do so.

By 2008, the number of individuals aged 25 to 64 involved in hands-on training jumped 30% compared to 2002, the study found.

“The largest increase in participation is occurring among middle-aged and older adults,” StatsCan said.

As a result, program enrollment among 35 to 44 year-olds was similar to those under the age of 34 for the very first time, at 42% and 43% respectively.

“This too is an indicator of a system that is able to recognize and certify skills acquired by individuals who did not necessarily complete a formal apprenticeship program but who nevertheless demonstrate that they have the skills required to meet certification standards,” the report reads.

The number of men over 40 who received new certification tripled in construction fields and more than doubled in metallurgical fields. Strong gains were also notable in automotive and mechanical fields.

The number of apprenticeship registrations has been growing steadily since the recession of the early 1990s and reached an all-time high of 358,555 in 2007, or twice the number reported in 1991, StatsCan said.

Training for trades including building construction, metal fabrication, motor vehicle and heavy equipment were among the most popular.

Employers continue to be a key source of support for job-related education and training, StatsCan said.