SAINT JOHN – Women interested in a career in the trades, traditionally the domain of men in this region, now have a clear path to jobs with a starting pay in the $20-30 an hour range, thanks to a new pilot project involving industry and the provincial government.
The project is a partnership between New Boots, a program advancing women in trades, J.D. Irving, Limited (JDI) and the provincial government. It will train 10 women in skilled trades and provide them jobs at various divisions of JDI, says Mary Keith, VP of Communications at JDI.
“What makes this program different is that we are guaranteeing those who complete the program a job,” said Keith in an interview. “Those jobs will run anywhere between $20-$30 an hour. As they progress in their career, they’ll have an opportunity to move around in our organization.”
The 11-week Skilled Trades Exploration Program for Women (STEPW) is focused on training women who are interested in certain trade jobs available through the program at JDI. Participants must have at least a high school diploma or GED and want to get a Red Seal certification on their trade.
Ten women are taking part in this first cohort. They come from various professional backgrounds, including retail, restaurant, and education. All of them have been interviewed for full-time employment with JDI as part of the selection process. They’ll begin their paid apprenticeship at JDI August 5. This project is inspired by a similar program at JDI’s Halifax Shipyard, run in partnership with Women Unlimited.
“[The women are] taking the leap and leaving their current position, because all of them were working in one field or another. They’re leaving their current job and leaping into a new career which is in a skilled trade,” says Hélène Savoie-Louis, the director of non-profit MAP Strategic Workforce Services, which runs New Boots.
The JDI companies taking part include NB Southern Railway, Universal Truck and Trailer, Custom Fabricators and Machinists, Woodlands, and Irving Equipment.
The New Brunswick Community College campus in Saint John will provide the skilled trades exploration training, and the Apprentice and Occupation Certification branch of the provincial government’s Post-Secondary Education and Labour (PETL) department will offer safety training. PETL’s Workforce Essential Skills Program has customized essential skills training for each of the women. The training focuses on numeracy, thinking skills, working with others, oral communication, and continuous learning.
The program comes at a time when JDI is planning to fill approximately 10,400 jobs by 2021 – most of them in New Brunswick – due to expected retirements and growth.
“A big priority for us is to keep young people here at home in New Brunswick,” said Keith. “We need them – the demographics, they’ve been well talked about. Part of that commitment is helping people upskill to pursue a new opportunity. We have about 700 trades that we’re going to have to hire over the next three years.”
Savoie-Louis says while there are women wanting to work in skilled trades, there are many barriers. One of the challenges is that trades are still not promoted to women in schools. The biggest barrier for women interested in trades is their lack of connections within the male-dominated sector.
“Guys have the automatic connection or family connection that get them through,” she said. “A program like this gives women direct contact to the industry with employers wanting to recruit. They’re already one step further than most women because they’ve already stepped over the barrier of finding employment.”
New Boots hopes to do the first two pilot projects over the next year and a half with JDI.
“They have a need in their workforce for skilled trade jobs,” Savoie-Louis said.
By 2021, New Boots aims to make the program permanent and have one or two cohorts a year. It also plans to include all skilled trades in the program and other employers who are interested in taking part.
“There are opportunities in New Brunswick,” said Savoie-Louis. “We just have to expose our women to them.”