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As the economy accelerates, Canada faces a massive shortage in skilled labour over the next decade as workers retire and demand for talent grows.

One of the ways to fill that gap is to attract — and retain — more women, who while occupying half of all regular jobs, represent less than 5% of registered tradespeople, according to a 2020 report by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF-FCA).

Led by CAF-FCA, the National Strategy to Support Women in the Trades was developed by employers, labour representatives, educators and equity representatives from multiple trades and regions to create sustainable and measurable change for women.

The main goals of the Strategy include: to increase the number of women apprentices, journeypersons and supervisors where they are underrepresented in proportion to the total number in a skilled trades workplace, and to create respectful and welcoming workplaces through meaningful policy and education.

Among specific recommendations for the employers to address the barriers in recruitment and retention of women in the trades, are:

  • Implement Anti-Bullying and Anti-Harassment Initiatives
  • Reach out to diverse communities and groups of women when advertising employment opportunities
  • Review all policies and practices using a gender-diversity lens and re-adjust them where necessary to ensure there is equity
  • Ensure gender-neutral language is used in policies, collective agreements and in all day-to-day operations and transactions
  • Provide uniforms and personal protective equipment that fit women
  • Support professional development opportunities for women
  • Outline the advancement policies to all employees
  • Offer promotions based on skills and seniority
  • Provide women with leadership positions on worksites

Access to proper childcare is another important area that needs to be addressed, as women generally require more flexible work schedules and are unable to put in as much overtime as their male counterparts. The federal government’s new $30 billion national child-care initiative is supposed to help attract more women back to the workforce, after many quit their jobs during the pandemic, primarily to look after their kids.

Another hurdle is pay. The wage gap between men and women is especially prevalent in the skilled trades. In the first year following certification for all Red Seal trades, women earned on average $31,400 or just 47% of the $67,200 earned by men, according to a joint study by the Education Policy Research Initiative and the Labour Market Information Council.

In its most recent budget, the federal government also announced a $470 million incentive program that provides funding to employers that hire first-year apprentices. The monetary incentive is doubled if they hire someone from an equity group that includes women, racialized Canadians, and people with disabilities.

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More women needed in skilled trades, but barriers remain