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An untapped resource

Part of the solution to the construction industry’s labour shortage may be supporting women in the trades

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“The guidance counsellors in the high schools, as well as parents, are not doing a good enough job of encouraging construction trades to girls as a career option,” Monahan says. Peer pressure also plays a role. “Girls don’t want to be the ‘only one’ doing something among their friends,” she adds.

In 2005, Pemberton Secondary School implemented a carpentry apprentice program, which enables Grade 12 students to complete their first year apprenticeship while still in high school. In its first year, 21 boys enrolled. Last year, seven boys completed the program. There has not been a single female student enrolled thus far. Poul Jakobsen, a former BCIT instructor who teaches the carpentry program at Pemberton Secondary, admits that intimidation, and the newness of the program, may be causing female students to pass over this very practical, creative, and potentially lucrative opportunity.

Jordan Kobelka, a 2005 graduate of Whistler Secondary School, says the atmosphere at her high school was similar; girls were not really introduced to the trades as a possible career choice. Kobelka says that university was emphasized, but the trades were an option “geared to the boys.” Even when she talked to her guidance counsellor, construction trades were not brought up. She believes that bringing some women currently working in the construction trades into the school would make the industry more attractive and more accessible to young women contemplating life after graduation.

Kobelka’s father is a plumbing contractor, and he got his daughter started in the business stocking parts as a summer job. In order for her to become more familiar with the different plumbing parts her father’s employees needed, he sent her out on the job sites. Now she is working as an apprentice plumber, and has experienced a variety of job sites and responsibilities, from “working at the Chateau, to working on the new university in Squamish, to doing renos in Whistler.”

Has the atmosphere on the job been hospitable to her?

“Absolutely. Most of the time, the guys have been great. There have been a few times when I got some weird looks, but most of the time I have had no problem.”

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