Women in Trades Training Program Celebrates 1,000 Student Milestone
Okanagan College’s Women in Trades Training (WITT) program celebrated its first 1,000 students in a ceremony yesterday at the Kelowna campus. Program alumni, current students, industry professionals, staff and special guests filled the room to near capacity to honour the program that has been redefining success in the area of trades for over 10 years.
Among those guests was the Hon. Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, who spoke to labour-market demand in construction trades and the momentum around increasing participation of women to fill many upcoming job opportunities.
“Our government is committed to cultivating winning conditions to support women in the trades,” said Mark. “We need to move the dial for women in all areas of the trades. Okanagan College’s Women in Trades Training Program is creating a pathway to boost the number of certified trades people to help meet the growing labour-market demand. There are thousands of opportunities for people in the trades and we need everyone in order to build the best B.C.”
Changing the demographics of an entire industry isn’t easy, but it’s one of the very reasons the program exists. The unique “taste and see” approach speaks for itself, but it does more than simply put another student through another trades program; it opens up the doors of possibility.
“This is one of the many ways that Okanagan College is promoting access to education and training,” notes OC President Jim Hamilton. “Working with government and employers, we’re doing what we can to deliver opportunities for women and other under-represented groups.”
Since 2009, WITT has trained approximately 100 women each year in exploratory trades programs as well as foundation pre-apprenticeships. The exploratory 12-week session exposes women to the tools of five to six different trades, allowing them to find their own area of promise.
On the sponsorship side, WITT funds a number of women in Foundation programs. Upon completion of these pre-apprentice programs, which last an average of 25 weeks, the students can earn the technical training for Level I of their trade, including a number of work-based hours to be counted once apprenticed. In the past year alone, WITT supported 36 women in Foundation programs.
“The women in trades program was designed to increase the number of female apprentices in the province of B.C.,” says WITT Program Administrator Nancy Darling. “It provides support to women to address some of the barriers for them entering careers in the skilled trades.”
The Okanagan College Women in Trades Training program is funded by the Industry Training Authority (ITA) through the Workforce Development Agreement. Based on pre-selected criteria, the ITA predicts that technicians, carpenters, electricians and machinists are among the highest in demand. With an enrolment increase of nearly 50 per cent in the past five years in foundation pre-apprenticeships, the momentum is clear with promise of financial stability and job security.
Johanna Turangan-Grieve, a fourth-year carpenter apprentice, shared the impact that the program has had in her life.
“I needed options. I needed guidance. I needed something that would help me find my own identity again,” expressed Turangan-Grieve. “Women in Trades did exactly that and so much more.”
“This program highlights the power and importance of sisterhood. The bonds that I have made with my classmates and many other fellow women in trades throughout my journey has been very powerful for me.”
Now well into her apprenticeship and currently working for Greyback Construction in Penticton, she offers advice for those considering the program.
“Step outside of that comfort zone of yours,” she said. “Ask a lot of questions. Be patient and go easy on yourself and prepare to be surrounded by encouraging and supportive women from all walks of life.”