Saskatoon carpenter encouraging women to pursue trades careers amid ongoing underrepresentation

Zbitniff, a journeyperson carpenter in Saskatoon who mentors apprentices, began learning about the trades in a high school program and hasn’t looked back since.

Data from 2018 shows women represented only 3.9 per cent of skilled tradespeople in Canada

Worker sorts wood on conveyer belt at the Duz Cho Lumber Mill in Mackenzie, B.C. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Alex Zbitniff has a message to girls and women who want to pursue a career in the trades.

"Fully go for it."

According to 2018 data from Statistics Canada, women represented 47 per cent of the workforce in the country, but only 3.9 per cent of skilled tradespeople. CBC News has contacted Statistics Canada to see if there are more current numbers available but did not receive additional information before publication.

Zbitniff, a journeyperson carpenter in Saskatoon who mentors apprentices, began learning about the trades in a high school program and hasn't looked back since.

"It really opened up a lot of doors," she told CBC's Saskatoon Morning.

"The carpentry aspect interested me. I really like building stuff almost from the ground up. You can kind of see something start from nothing and go into a big structure or even just like a small, little bench or something. Your ideas kind of come to life."

LISTEN | Karen Walsh spoke with host Leisha Grebinski on Saskatoon Morning: 
Women make up about half of Canada’s labour force, but just four per cent of the skilled trades. Host Leisha Grebinski speaks with Karen Walsh from the Office to Advance Women Apprenticeship about what barriers persist, as well as local journerperson carpenter Alex Zbitniff who is mentoring young carpenters in Saskatoon.

Zbitniff said that a career in the trades can be difficult or unappealing for many women and girls because most of jobs are male-dominated and physically strenuous.

"A lot of girls don't show interest in it, I feel, because it is so high demanding. But at the same time, if girls do show interest and they want to do it, I'd say fully go for it. Try it out."

Like any career, hard work and a willingness to learn go a long way in the trades and can lead to a successful career, Zbitnoff said.

"If what's going to make you happy is going into a male-dominated trade — and yeah, you might have to work your butt off to get to where you are a little bit harder than a guy has to — but if it's going to make you happy, it's going to be totally worth it."

Bias still major barrier

One of the biggest barriers for girls and women looking to pursue the trades is the belief that trades are for men and women don't belong there, according to Karen Walsh, executive director and project consultant for the Office to Advance Women Apprentices.

However, as more women get involved in the trades, there is progress toward refuting that misconception, she said.

"The biggest group, I think, that's breaking that bias is the women themselves, the women that are out on the tools," she said.

"Women themselves are actually walking the walk and that's making contractors stop and say, 'Hey, she's doing a great job. She is changing the culture of our construction industry,' and we've had contractors call and tell us just that."

Walsh acknowledged that there's still work to be done, since women only make up such a small portion of skilled trades workers in Canada, but there's still reason to be optimistic because the number in some provinces is 'definitely way higher than four per cent."

She listed B.C., Alberta and Newfoundland as provinces that are seeing improved numbers.

Walsh also said childcare can be a barrier for both women and men in the skilled trades. She said programs are being implemented to alleviate those challenges, but there needs to be programs specifically for the trades since they can involve long hours and out-of-town jobs.

Like Zbitniff, Walsh had some advice for girls and women wanting to pursue a career in the trades. 

"Really do your research," she said.

"Find out what you're good at. If you feel that you're a hands-on person, talk to women in trades.… Really do your homework before you jump into a trade and realize, 'Oh, I should have researched just a bit more.'"

With files from Saskatoon Morning


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