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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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Kobelka believes that as more women get into construction trades, “it will become a generational thing. People will have moms that are plumbers or electricians. It will make it a lot easier. It is hard to be the only woman on the job site. If no other women are doing a job, what does that say? Who wants to be the first one to try?”

There is a perception that you have to be big and brawny to work in the construction trades but Kobelka says that’s not the case. “Anyone starting out as an apprentice is going to struggle a bit at first, boy or girl,” she says. It is a question of getting your body used to doing the work and getting in shape. “I see new (male) apprentices struggling as much as I did. You gain strength as you go along.”

Kobelka’s favourite part of the job is “seeing the finished product.” It is very satisfying to start a job at the rough-in stage (the initial stage of construction when the pipes are being laid) and then putting in the basins and shining the taps. “My dad actually likes me to do that part because he thinks women have a better attention to detail. When you mount the sink, it has to be level and straight with the backsplash, there can’t be a stray bead of silicone dripping anywhere. It has to be perfect, basically.”

The worst part of the job? “Hey, it’s plumbing! It can be very dirty. No matter how hard you try, you are inevitably going to get stuff on you.” (Kobelka does not go the details of what that “stuff” is, but needless to say, plumbers of either gender are going to have their challenging moments.) “Obviously you are going to have stuff that is dirty in a bathroom — that’s where you go to get clean!” she laughs.

Krista Humphrey had her hand in the traditional “pink-ghetto” of office administration at Children’s Hospital in Toronto before she and her partner, Bernie, decided to make the move to B.C.

“We were going to go out to Gabriola Island and take a timber framing course first,” she explains.

But Bernie had a friend in Whistler so they decided to drop in and visit him first. He was a tile setter and offered to teach Krista and Bernie everything he knew.

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