Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia organization opens doors for girls in skilled trades

Techsploration, a grassroots organization based around the empowerment of girls in grades 9-12, has had to make adjustments to deal with pandemic restrictions

Techsploration has persevered during the pandemic to offer programming for students in grades 9-12

Victoria Henneberry is a Techsploration alumna, currently working at Shelburne Ship Repair as a pipefitter. (Victoria Henneberry)

With Nova Scotia under COVID-19 lockdown, organizations like Techsploration have had to make changes to how they deliver their free programming.

The grassroots organization, which aims to empower girls in grades 9-12 through learning about skilled trades, has done a lot to adapt a year into the pandemic by making events and training virtual.

The non-profit has done well by moving things to an online platform, despite challenges, said Emily Boucher, interim executive director of Techsploration. 

"Part of the success that we've seen is with curriculum kits," she said.

The kits are pivotal in meeting students where they are and allowing them to gain hands-on experience, which is a key to learning a skilled trade.

Techsplorers used PVC piping to create a house using the kits provided to them. (Emily Boucher)

For example, an event last November had students learning about pipefitting where they made a miniature house.

Each kit included everything needed to make a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe house, including small pieces of drywall and hammers. 

The organization, which works in partnership with NSCC, is working on setting up augmented reality for certain trades for students to feel like they are getting a hands-on experience, even if they aren't physically there.

It's expected to be ready in the fall with a full setup of 360-degree cameras to showcase their work sites.

Techsploration started with eight schools in 1998 and now has over 3,500 participants a year, with 23 schools consistently involved. The program hosts guest events at more than a dozen other schools.

The program is designed to give girls the chance to see successful women role models who have careers in science, technology, engineering and skilled trades.

They are introduced to jobs that some may not have considered possible before seeing another woman in that occupation. 

"About 60 per cent of our alumni actually ended up pursuing studies and careers in these fields, and often come back as role models," said Boucher.

Report: Women earn less than men in skilled trades

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A new report finds women in trades make half as much as men. Carole MacNeil speaks with the report's lead author, Ross Finnie, about why this happens. 4:12

Techsploration alumna Victoria Henneberry said the organization helped build the confidence that was a key to her success in getting a job in her field.

Currently working at Shelburne Ship Repair, Henneberry is one of the only female pipefitters in the province. 

The program helped her narrow down what career path she wanted to take — something Henneberry, who is a role model with Techsploration, hopes she can do for another student someday.

"You literally can do pretty much anything if you want, you just have to have a good support system and not to give up," she said.

Women make up less than five per cent of the electricians, carpenters and automotive technicians employed in Canada.

Emily Boucher is the interim executive director of Techsploration. (Emily Boucher)

Techsploration is actively tackling these statistics by bringing in women from these trades to provide girls with a network of supporting mentors to help them navigate the future workforce.

There has been increasing interest in the program from other provinces over the past year, and Boucher said Techsploration was finally able to have its first out-of-province event. 

It partnered with Employment and Social Development Canada in March 2020 to host online events for students in Ontario and New Brunswick.

Boucher said the organization has been able to maintain momentum during COVID-19 thanks to its community and NSCC, and the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency.

"It's allowed us to continue to succeed and create new programming in the midst of a pandemic, which I think is pretty special," she said.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Guye

Reporter/editor

Alexandrea Guye is journalist reporting from Kjipuktuk (Halifax). If you have feedback or a tip, email her at alexandrea.guye@cbc.ca

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