Women still struggling for a place in the trades

Alberta's Advanced Education Ministry has announced $1 million to boost the skills of 1,000 apprentices — the vast majority whom will be men.

Only 7 per cent of apprentice students at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology are women

A group of trades students at NAIT listen as Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt announces $1 million in funding for apprentices. (CBC)

At least 1,000 budding welders, plumbers, mechanics, heavy equipment operators and other apprentices in Alberta will get a helping hand from the government this year to boost their skills.

And almost all of them will be men.

At Edmonton's Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, 68 per cent of the students are men while 32 per cent are women. In the apprentice program itself, the gap jumps to 93 per cent men versus seven per cent women.

"There needs to be more work done in junior high, high school to expose young women to these different trades and technologies," said Stevie Fuhrer, coordinator of a NAIT initiative called Women in Technology and Trades.

You don't know what you don't know- Stevie Fuhrer, coordinator of NAIT's Women in Technology and Trades

The school is trying to show young women they are welcome. Fuhrer works with industry to discuss opportunities for women, and also invites teenage girls to spend time at the school to introduce them to the trades.

"They'll be doing things like going to the automotive department, learning how to change a tire and learning about car maintenance," she explained.

The teenagers will also get a glimpse of the graphic communications department and see what it's like to be an electrician.

"You don't know what you don't know until you see somebody that you can kind of relate to in that position."

Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt announces $1 million for apprenticeship training on Monday at NAIT. (CBC)

Jacqueline Andersen, the industry relations director at Women Building Futures, agrees that visibility is key to encouraging more women to get into the trades.

"It's huge," she said. "We believe in informed career decision and that absolutely starts with exposure."

Since it opened in 1998, Women Building Futures has seen 2,000 people go through the school, which boasts a 92 per cent employment success rate through partnerships with industry and companies.

Andersen said she was excited by the government's announcement Monday to invest $1 million to help train apprentices who've found themselves out of work in Alberta's lacklustre economy.

Chair of the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board, j'Amey Holroyd believes exposing women to the trades will improve enrolment.

The first female chair of the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board, j'Amey Holroyd, stood next to Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt at the funding announcement held at NAIT.

"It's typically male-dominated trades," said Holroyd, a former boilermaker. "I think there's a societal expectation that when people grow up they're going to go into different occupations."

She believes that is changing.

"New initiatives and a more diverse economy are on the horizon and we need skilled, trades professionals who can adapt quickly from tradition to innovation," Holroyd said.

Andersen said she's noticed more women getting into carpentry, ironworking, welding, insulating, and heavy machinery.

Apprentices at NAIT attend an eight-week program once a year for about four years. At the end of the training, they graduate from being an apprentice to a journeyman.

In 2015, 6,226 women registered as apprentices in the province, representing 9.2 per cent of all registered apprentices, Ministry of Advanced Education spokesperson Ben Lof said.

The number of registered female apprentices is up slightly from a four-year average of 8.9 per cent.