Skilled trades survival guide

Lifestyle Sports | Lifestyle

Tips and resources for women — or anyone — to find their place in the trades

Photo by Darian Lee, Design Director

Though skilled trades have long been considered men’s work, people are beginning to realize that women also belong on-site. Despite this shift, there are still many difficulties faced at worksites that can make trades work more difficult to navigate. Though there are many roadblocks to success in the trades, there are just as many ways around them. Below are a few of the different skills and resources that can help women, or anyone, survive on the often-rocky roads of trade work.

In life, nothing is free, and time is money. An investment of time in research and training can make all the difference when transitioning into your desired trade. One resource is the Industry Training Authority (ITA) website. There, you can find information on what type of work is available, program access to different job types, and whether or not Red Seal training (certification to work in all provinces) is required.

Once you’ve chosen your desired path, you may wish to consider a few different routes to success. You might decide to pursue apprenticeship programs or opportunities that will accept workers at your current skill level. Alternatively, you could decide to pursue post-secondary–style training. While there are many different types of trade programs available — such as those advertised on websites like ITA and their Women in Trades initiative — college-level trades programs can provide you with a series of certifications that prepare you for job-site safety standards and the demands of your chosen career. Camosun College provides courses like these, and some of their construction programs are also bridges to engineering and trades programs at universities such as UVic.

Once on the job site, there are many different obstacles that may fall into your path. Obtaining proper gear such as helmets, gloves, steel-toed boots, safety goggles, and more may be necessary. Unfortunately, bricks falling on your toes or ladders tipping into your path are not the only threatening things you may face on the job. Some other important tools are the ways in which you deal with discrimination and conflict. Many companies are welcoming and don’t discriminate based on things like gender or race. However, if you do find yourself facing discrimination, there are some things you can do to protect yourself.

First, build a good support network. Having friends, family, partners, and pets who will support you is one of the most important resources you can have. At the end of the day, the people closest to you are critical to your emotional well-being.

Another important resource is your on-site network. Know who you can trust, and create connections with people who will help you if something goes wrong. One great way to create an on-site network is to maintain a hardworking, professional reputation. 

A friend of mine, Mags MacDonald, has worked in construction for over a decade. She explained that construction workers love to spread information about what happens on-site. If you work hard, people will talk about it. Additionally, she said that if you’re experiencing problems like harassment, your reputation of being hard-working will often precede you. This means it will be easy for you to find another job, so, know your worth — if you leave, another company will likely treat you better.

If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your job, you still have options. Talk to your boss, the first-aid attendant, or another member of the crew that has authority. Keep notes on issues as they happen, and force your boss to deal with problems you may be facing. If the worker who is harassing you is from another company, do your best to ignore them and continue working hard and building that reputation. You’d be surprised how far a good reputation can get you in the trades. If all else fails, report to labour relations or the Workers’ Compensation Board.

Another important part of dealing with discrimination is to make sure to maintain a professional demeanour. Wearing the correct uniform, speaking respectfully to all co-workers, regardless of gender, and keeping comments work-appropriate is a good way to build a positive reputation and a team-oriented atmosphere. Though discrimination is never the victim’s fault, professional behaviour lets the people around you know that you don’t take part in harassment culture. This can often be a deterrent for people who might otherwise make inappropriate comments or unwanted physical gestures. Remember, harassment is not only a women’s issue. It is just as important to make others feel comfortable on the job as it is for them to do the same for you. Everyone has a right to a safe work environment.

Mags has been working in construction for 12 years. Throughout that time, she has accumulated plenty of insight into what it’s like to be a woman in the trades. 

“It’s worth it,” she said. “And there is good money to be made. Tradeswomen are getting more respect every day, and the feeling of satisfaction you get from seeing something you built is its own reward.” 

Mags went on to describe that the first time a little girl sees you working and asks her mom if she can do that too, your heart will fill with joy. 

Then she shared one final thing: “Some guys will be ‘helpful’ and take heavy loads right out of your hands. Hold on. Don’t let them take it.” Honestly, I can’t think of a better piece of advice to leave you with.

Working in the trades can seem scary, and sometimes it might feel impossible. But, as Mags said, women are getting more respect every day for their hard work, strength, and tenacity. It has never been a better time to get into the trades, and anyone with the will can do it. That means you.