In September 2012, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce warned of the imminent severity of the skills shortage affecting the country, with one third of the Canadian workforce expected to retire in the next five years. It is recognized that a variety of solutions will need to be applied to overcome the economic consequences of this skills gap. One vital element which is seen as instrumental in reducing its impact is the attraction of more women into skilled trade jobs.
This echoed a previous report in 2010 by Canada’s Women In Mining association which reported that women found career progression challenging in technical and skilled trades roles.
At the beginning of this year, The Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology highlighted the need to attract more women to trades roles such as machinists, welders, plumbers and electricians. At the same time, it acknowledged that the biggest obstacles to womens’ entry into the workforce included an array of stereotypical views, together with:-
- Workplace bullying and regular use of negative language towards women in skilled trades roles.
- A dearth of women in senior positions.
- A working environment that is becoming increasingly unsupportive.
- Unhygienic working conditions.
- Lack of flexible working arrangements.
- Lack of women taking up training opportunities in science, technology or skilled trades.
- FIFO (fly-in-fly-out) jobs with responsibilities and working hours that are particularly unsympathetic to the role of women as primary carers within families.
- A stark pay gap between men and women in skilled trades roles.
What Can Be Done To Resolve the Situation?
Without doubt it is apparent that employers in the technical and trades industries need to adopt a more flexible approach to not only attract females into the workforce but increase retention rates in skilled trades roles. It is recommended that employers consider:-
- Increasing pay rates for women. Up-to-date figures are hard to ascertain but it is estimated that the existing pay gap may be around 30%.
- Introducing more benefits such as flexible working hours to take into account the demands of supporting a family which traditionally fall onto women.
- Providing career development incentives through training to provide women with a clear career path and the opportunity to progress into senior roles.
- More training opportunities. In recognition of this, earlier this year the oil industry contributed $200,000 towards funds for new scholarships specifically targeted at women in the sector. This particular scholarship offers young women between the ages of 17 and 22 the opportunity to study a program over thirteen weeks covering resource based industry sectors, such as oil, gas, mining and minerals. It is also widely acknowledged within the mining sector that women are more reliable in positions such as drivers and truck operators as they take more care in their role.
The issues facing the Canadian economy are widely reported yet women offer a huge untapped potential solution to its problems. While steps are being taken, the momentum needs to be increased to attract more women into skilled trades positions and in doing so minimize the detrimental effects of the skills shortage on the Canadian economy.