There is a “tremendous opportunity” today for women who choose to work in construction-related trades. The industry is undergoing major change, while as many as 250,000 current workers are planning to retire in this decade. Industry leaders from all over Canada have said that finding skilled workers for the construction industry is one of the key challenges they face. As Bob Walker, Vice-president of Ledcor Northern Alberta put it, the industry has been “missing out” on two key sources of workers: women and Aboriginal Canadians. “If we can convince more women to get into the trades, we now double the amount of people we can draw from.”
The challenge is daunting. Despite recent efforts from groups like Women Building Futures, only 4 or 5 per cent of workers in construction today are women. But Women Building Futures has partnered with BuildForce Canada, the construction industry’s source of labour market information and other resources, to try and get more women to sign up for training in occupations like heat and frost insulator, heavy equipment operator, construction planner, and carpenter.
The world of construction offers “endless career opportunities,” according to JudyLynn Archer, president of Women Building Futures. Many jobs in construction are well paid, said Archer, and her organization wants women entering the workforce or considering a career change to think about construction.
The announcement comes just as some damning statistics have emerged concerning the labour market situation in the province of Alberta. Since the oil-price recession began more than a year ago, 3,000 people have left Alberta, according to Statistics Canada. Of those, 97 per cent were women. Alberta, it turns out, has the widest gender pay gap in Canada, with women earning less than two-thirds what men earn. Calgary, one of the worst cities in Canada for women workers in terms of pay equity, is dominated by industries that predominantly employ men, one of those being construction. Women tend to work in retail or hospitality, which pay much less, or in education and healthcare where salaries are higher.
But women can also earn higher wages in construction, and before the recession, more women in Alberta were going into that industry. Since the recession, however, men who have lost jobs in the oilfield have re-entered construction, driving women out, according to a sociologist at the University of Calgary who spoke to CBC news. “Jobs are always scarce in construction, so women are probably being driven out,” said Pallavi Banerjee.
Despite the labour situation in Alberta, BuildForce and Women Building Futures hope to bolster the number of women in construction across Canada. “Encouraging more women to pursue the construction trades is not only the right thing to do, it’s a necessity,” said Rosemary Sparks, executive director of BuildForce Canada.