Not just for guys: college program brings women into the trades

Tuition-free program with a focus on skilled trades has graduated 300 women at Conestoga College since it was first offered in 2003.

Women in Skilled Trades is a tuition-free program offered at Conestoga College

Rachel Finstad and Cortenay Porter are taking carpentry in the Women in Skilled Trades program at Conestoga College. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Two young women from Waterloo region — along with a dozen of their classmates — will be hitting the pavement soon in search of a paid apprenticeship in skilled trades.

Rachel Finstad and Cortenay Porter are wrapping up 26 weeks of in class theory from the Women in Skilled Trades Carpentry program at Conestoga College's Waterloo Campus.

They're both wrapping up assignments in welding, as well as completing school drywall and roofing jobs with their instructors.
The Waterloo campus of Conestoga College is offering a tuition free program for women interested in a career in skilled trades. The Women in Skilled Trades Carpentry program has been operating for a number of years. The Morning Edition speaks with two students, Rachel Finstad and Cortenay Porter who are completing their year and in search of an apprenticehip 7:10

Brenda Gilmore, chair of technology trades and apprenticeships at the college, said 300 women have graduated from the tuition free program since it was first offered at the campus.

"We've seen many of them become licensed carpenters, plumbers, heating, refrigeration, air conditioning technicians, welders," said Gilmore.

"We've also seen health and safety officers. We've also seen a number of entrepreneurs that have opened up their own businesses as well. Some of them have even decided to go on to further their education as well in the industry."

The program, which is geared toward women, is offered free of charge to students through a partnership the college has with the Ministry of the Status for Women. The Waterloo campus of Conestoga has been a partner since it was first offered in 2003. Since then the college has had to apply for yearly funding.

'Bouncing around a little bit'

Brandi Ferenc is a graduate of the program who now, after 10 years on the job, is a licensed refrigeration mechanic with a gas fitter one ticket, working at Johnson Controls in the Toronto area.

Ference said it's a second career for her after 'bouncing around a little bit' after high school, going to university and not being happy in an office job.

It was a discussion with her friends and family who worked in the trades that helped her make the decision to change careers. It's a decision she does not regret.

"I'm continually doing training and learning about new equipment coming out in my industry," she said. 

"Everything is becoming more high tech and I need to be able to fix that stuff when it breaks down. You do have to want to have that mentality that you're constantly going to be growing. It's a career, it's not just a job. You don't really punch out."

Future blueprints

Students Finstad and Porter are both looking to the future to take what they've learned in class and make it real.

"I would love to be renovating houses," Finstad said. "Maybe with a company or maybe myself. Definitely renovating!"

Cortenay said her new career plans have formed a closer bond with her father, who is an electrician. The two have discussed the possibly working on a future project together.

About the Author

Joe Pavia

Reporter/Editor

Joe Pavia is a Reporter/Editor with CBC K-W 89.1 FM. He's normally heard weekdays on The Morning Edition but also covers a wide range of news and feature stories for both radio and web. Email him at Joseph.Pavia@cbc.ca Follow him on twitter @PaviaJoe1964