Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Learning the Tricks of the Trades: Women's Experiences/Apprendre Les Ficelles Des Métiers : Les Expériences Des Femmes

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Learning the Tricks of the Trades: Women's Experiences/Apprendre Les Ficelles Des Métiers : Les Expériences Des Femmes

Article excerpt

In Canada, women constitute nearly 50% of the workforce (Statistics Canada, 2007a), but on average earn less than two thirds of an average man's pay (Statistics Canada, 2010). Women have traditionally held clerical and service jobs that are characterized by low salaries, low status, repetitive tasks, and little chance for advancement (Greene & Stitt-Gohdes, 1997; Hulme, 2006; O'Farrell, 1999; Read, 1994). In recent years, women have begun advancing into high-paying, high-status careers in such fields as law and medicine (Betz, 2006). However, there are many other careers in which women remain drastically underrepresented, such as construction and the skilled trades (e.g., carpentry, electrical contracting, plumbing, welding), where only 2% of working women are employed (Statistics Canada, 2007b).

This situation is unfortunate, as the skilled trades provide a practical option for women experiencing financial pressure. The trades require less formal education while providing financial compensation even during the apprenticeship process. Upon reaching the journeyman level, tradespeople can often find unionized work with a middle-class income, health care benefits, and a pension plan (Heppner & O'Brien, 2001; "Made with the Trades," n.d.).

It is estimated that, on average across the skilled trades in Canada, 52% of the current workforce is scheduled to retire by 2015, increasing demand for new workers in these trades (WiN Canada, 2009). Furthermore, the Conference Board of Canada (2008) has suggested that over the next 20 years, 40% of available jobs will be in technologies and skilled trades. In the construction industry, spokespeople have identified women as the most significant source of untapped labour (Berik & Bilginsoy, 2006), and provincial and territorial governments have developed programs to attract women and expose them to the world of the skilled trades. Although continual efforts are being made to recruit women across Canada, very few women currently aspire to careers in the skilled trades, despite the financial benefits and the job availability inherent in them. In 2008, women accounted for just 3% of registered apprentices and only 1.7% of people completing the trades programs (CCWESTT, 2011). Women who begin a career in a skilled trade are also more likely than men to drop out of their apprenticeship programs (Byrd, 1999). An early study (Brown, 1981) found the attrition of women in the trades occurs primarily in the first year of their training program.

The purpose of this study was to gain insight into the experiences of Canadian women preparing to enter the construction trades in the 21st century. There is little Canadian research on this topic and much of the international research was carried out a decade or more ago, prior to the establishment of systematic programs to promote women's entry into the trades. Many barriers have been found to deter women in other countries from pursuing careers in the trades and also to interfere with their ability to advance within these fields. It is not clear whether these barriers remain, now that programs have been implemented across Canada to encourage young women to pursue careers in the construction trades, and women have begun to participate and excel in the construction trades (Conference Board of Canada, 2008; Overend, 2005). The experiences of the current generation of Canadian women pursuing these trades is largely unexplored, which is a problem for career counsellors, school counsellors, and other practitioners who are working to support this population. First, however, it is important to gain an understanding of previous research on this issue. The literature review that follows is divided into three sections: (a) contributors to success, (b) discrimination, and (c) other barriers.


Although few women pursue skilled trades, there are tradeswomen who are quite successful in these careers. Several studies have noted the successes of women in the trades and the variables that impact their success. …

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