Funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada, formerly Status of Women Canada, Equitable Pathways to Technical Fields and Skilled Trades is a three-year project led by YWCA Hamilton in partnership with ArcelorMittal Dofasco, the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB) and Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB). The project is centered on three main goals
To work collaboratively with both School Boards to create an equitable pathway for female students in grades 9-12 to enter technical fields and skilled trades
To increase opportunities for industry sector and communities to advance young women in technical fields and skilled trades
To develop a Strategic Action Plan, accompanied with an evidence-based and tested Toolkit and best practices to effectively facilitate students transitioning from high school into technical fields and skilled trades training and apprenticeship
The primary goal of this project is to increase the number of young women in hands-on, historically male-dominated trades and technical classes, while supporting their transition from high school into technical fields and skilled trades training and apprenticeship. In order to develop and implement a Strategic Action Plan, YWCA Hamilton conducted a literature review, a needs assessment, and examined best practices being implemented in schools. These activities in conjunction with an advisory committee and community partners, helped staff to identify needs, priorities and potential solutions to create an equitable pathway for young women students to enter technical fields and skilled trades and to see these as viable career options.
YWCA Hamilton developed an Implementation Plan to introduce technical fields and skilled trades to young women in high schools in Hamilton. The Implementation Plan consisted of focus groups, surveys and 53 workshops that were delivered during the 2018-2019 school year. The workshops provided opportunities for young women to build awareness of and to view jobs in technical fields and skilled trades as viable career options. These workshops were evaluated by a third party researcher (the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton) and the feedback was used to strengthen the Toolkit and inform the feedback featured in this document.
Ontario’s economy is facing a looming problem, a shortage of workers in the skilled trades. According to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (2019), retirements in the skilled trades are driving the shortage of skilled workers, and one in five new jobs over the next five years in Ontario will be in the skilled trades. With the industry’s huge labour shortage, introduction and retention of women in the trades would not only benefit women but also improve all sectors of the economy. In addition, Canada’s technology industry is growing, and ensuring its continued growth is necessary for our economy. Attracting more women into the technological fields will help fuel the discovery of new technological advancements and help Canada’s companies succeed (Brookfield Institute, 2019).
Women are 4 times less likely than men to hold a tech job in Canada
While women make up nearly half of the work force in Canada by holding 48% of all jobs, the gender distribution of the labour force is not equal. Women hold less than 4.5% of all skilled trades jobs across Canada and across all industries (Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, 2018). There are also significant disparities in Canada’s technical sector. Men are four times more likely than women to be in a technology job in Canada (Brookfield Institute, 2019). Balancing the gender ratio between men and women in the skilled trades and technical fields is important and can create a strong, diversified economy.
Women have increasingly become more involved in the workforce following the 1940s due to interrelated
social and economic changes. Based on data from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) by Statistics Canada,
women’s participation in the labour market increased by 60.4 percentage points between 1950 and 2015,
from 21.6% to 82.0% (Statistics Canada, 2017). While women have started gradually moving from jobs historically occupied by women to previously male- dominated professional careers, certain sectors of the economy have remained elusive for women (Jones and Domenico, 2006).
Women hold less than 4.5% of all skilled trade jobs across Canada
A Needs Assessment report was conducted by the Equitable Pathways project to help uncover some of the reasons as to why students were not engaging with pathways to skill trades and technical professions. The methodologies applied to formulate this assessment included a review of related literature, analysis of local data, online surveys, informant interviews, focus groups and advisory committee meetings. This report compiled key stakeholder feedback from local experts involved in formal education, trades, and technology sectors, including employers and industry representatives, school board representatives, mentors and instructors of relevant fields, service providers, college faculty and non-profit organizations.
The key findings of this Needs Assessment report can be categorized into the following areas:
The strategies noted in this document aim to address the aforementioned findings
In order to determine some of the factors that turn high school students away from technology and skilled trades, YWCA staff held 53 workshops, named “Wonder Girls”, which were presented to young women and provided opportunities for them to explore careers in technical fields and skilled trades. Each workshop was different, including some with mentors who are professional women in technology and skilled trades. In total, 153 students attended the workshops.
When asked what turned them away from pursuing the skilled trades and/or technical fields, several of the
young women could not name any specific factors. In addition, one third of the respondents stated that there were no barriers turning them away from these fields. This may be an indicator that gender norms, biases and stereotypes are so deeply ingrained and invisible to students, and that the gender gap in student enrollment in technology and trades courses is normalized to students (SPRC, 2019).
Among the 67 responses that were received on factors that turn young women away from trades and
technology classes, the top 10 factors are listed in the following chart. The most common responses were
about the gender imbalance in trades and technology classes, lack of knowledge or interest in these fields,
stereotypes about gender roles, anxiety (including fears about not knowing anything about these subjects
or not fitting in), not being able to handle these types of courses academically, and parental and social
pressures to go to university and not to pursue fields outside of jobs historically occupied by women.
Barriers to pathways towards skilled trades and technology cited by young women who participated in workshops (% of responses, 67 total response)
Students were also asked to rate factors drawn from literature regarding what discourages young women from entering the skilled trades and technical fields. Their responses are summarized below:
Of respondents cited the LACK OF INFORMATION about apprenticeships as the main factor that dissuades them from technology and skilled trades.
Of respondents cited the LACK OF ROLE MODELS WHO ARE WOMEN as a factor that dissuades them from technology and skilled trades. Students often cited how the mentorship aspect of our workshops had positive impact on them.
Of respondents cited GENDER STEREOTYPES as a factor that has a large influence on their career choices. However, following the workshops, one of the most common responses from students was that the workshops helped them recognize how gender stereotypes can impact their career choices .
from students regarding factors that prevent them from pursuing the skilled trades and technical fields:
“I sometimes feel outnumbered and out of place.”
“Having all boys in the class and not having any girls.”
“Stereotypes that a tech class is not an academic ‘smart person’ class, and mostly for boys.”
“The pressure put on everyone to go to university. Everyone is expected to go to university from an early age.”
“Overly populated with guys. It’s kind of uncomfortable”
“Not enough money, parents would disapprove.”
Challenges and barriers identified in the “Wonder Girls” workshops guided the development of our Toolkit, where we have developed and compiled tools to assist educators in:
The resources in the Toolkit along with additional resources can be found on the accompanying USB drive. Together, these tools will assist in attracting and retaining young women into technical and skilled trades classes. The Toolkit is divided into three chapters: tools for educators, promotional materials for students, and local & online resources. The USB drive contains Equitable Pathways research and findings, workshop materials, research papers, local labour market information, video clips of women in the skilled trades and technical fields, infographics, news articles, and more.
The pathway to the skilled trades and technical fields for young women is not clearly marked, easily accessible or encouraged. This ambiguity is not representational of students’ preference or ability,
instead it reflects systemic barriers to equitable opportunities and career choices.
In this section, recommendations based on the current study’s findings are outlined with practical ways for stakeholder groups to combat the status quo and forge equitable career pathways for today’s and tomorrow’s young women. Reflective of the Equitable Pathways project, these points are directed at young women entering or enrolled in high schools.
The strategies and action items address the roles of teachers, guidance counsellors, school boards, students, and parents in the career planning and development process. Many of the solutions involve more than one interested or impacted group; and will only be achieved if approached as a collaboration.
All Strategies are built around a gender inclusive framwork. All stakeholders must engage with and reinforce that a paradigm shift is necessary; gender must be removed as a “reason not to” explore and embark on a career that excites, inspires, and fulfills a student’s needs and aspirations.
Expose girls in elementary school to all career options and routes
Involve role models and mentors, who are women, in career and pathway planning
Highlight links and make connections between trades and technology with materials in other courses.
Identify and support leaders in the skilled trades and technology in each school.
Recruit and encourage retention of teachers, who are women, in each school
The Ontario curriculum combines the need for a sole compulsory credit of either a senior science course, technology education, computer studies or
cooperative education under Group 3. Consider lobbying for the separation between the senior science course and cooperative education from the trades and technology courses, to ensure all students are accessing a trades or technology course during this education.
Generate parental involvement to increase understanding about careers in the skilled trades and technology, as well as to clarify misconceptions about women in these fields.
Develop and provide additional gender equity awareness seminars and inclusion training to school staff to assist them in recognizing and addressing gender bias in the classroom. Currently, only one of three mandatory Professional Activity day in Ontario require activities that may include training on equity, inclusion and human rights (Policy/Program Memorandum No. 151)
Display disseminate information about careers in the skilled trades and technology and include promotional materials of women working in these sectors
Initiate collaborations with other educational entities, community-based organizations and industries to develop mentorship programs, workshops and empowering projects to expose more young women to opportunities in the skilled trades and technical fields.
Track and analyze young women enrollment and engagement with technical and trade initiatives and classes
YWCA Hamilton would like to thank the key stakeholders and informants, including local employers, industry representatives, women working in technology and skilled trades, instructors and mentors involved in trades and technology careers, local community service providers, colleges, non- profit organizations, teachers, guidance counsellors, and parents for participating in our focus groups, interviews, and for completing surveys. Their input and
suggestions were used to develop this Strategic Action Plan and to develop our Toolkit. We would also like to thank the students who participated in our workshops during the 2018-2019 school year.
In addition, we would like to thank the members of our Advisory Committee for their dedication to this project.
Finally, YWCA Hamilton would like to thank the Social Planning and Research Council (SPRC) for serving as the third party evaluator on this project. The SPRC works with groups in Hamilton toward achieving positive community change. They work with non-profit organizations, community groups, neighbourhood associations, interest groups, and all levels of government. Their goal is to improve the quality of life for everyone in Hamilton through research, community
development, community engagement, and system and service planning.
Brookfield Institute. (2019). Who Are Canada’s Tech Workers?
Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters. (2018). Attracting and engaging women in Canadian Manufacturing.
Domenico, D., Jones, K.H. (2006). Career Aspirations of Women in the 20th Century.
Journal of Career and Technical Education. 22(2).
Statistics Canada. (2016). Women and Paid Work.
Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton. (2019).
YWCA Equitable Pathways to Technical Fields and Skilled Trades Evaluation Report.
Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development. (2019). Ontario Increasing Investments in Skilled Trades:
Government to Spend Additional $2.5M to Boost Exposure to Good Careers [News release].
Government of Ontario: https://news.ontario.ca/mol/en/2019/11/ontario-increasing-investments-in-skilled-trades.html