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Training for the Trades

How to get a foot in the door


By definition, a “trade” is an occupation requiring manual or mechanical skill – a career not suited for everyone. But for those who enjoy manual labour and/or building things, exploring a career in the trades may be a good option. For some, entering the trades was always the plan. For others, it was only after realizing their current career was no longer fulfilling. Either way, training for the trades can provide individuals, looking for a career start or career change, the skills and contacts needed to get a foot in the door.

For women, specifically, the thought of entering the trades may be intimidating, mostly because of misconceptions related to the industry. To overcome these barriers, programs such as Manpower’s 15-week emPOWER – Women In Trades help women acquire hands-on work experience, cutting-edge knowledge and high-quality trades training in a state-of-the-art lab setting, thanks to its partnership with SAIT.

The program is a free government-funded pre-apprenticeship training program for women who want to enter the trades. In addition to occupational skills training at SAIT, participants also receive employability preparation training provided by Manpower. Upon completion of the SAIT portion of the program, participants enter a four-week work experience placement with a local employer in the trades to gain practical work experience. Once participants complete the entire program, Manpower continues to provide support and job placement assistance.

Manpower’s director of workforce development Heidi Brandley says, “Manpower developed this program in partnership with SAIT because we wanted to help individuals get back to work and know that women are under-represented in the trades, where there is a high demand for skills in that sector. There is a challenge in the skilled trades workforce as approximately 219,000 skilled trades workers are expected to retire. But this creates an opportunity for women who are looking to work in this field. At the same time, we know that approximately only five per cent of the workforce in the trades are women.”

Brandley adds that Manpower has a long history and strong relationship with SAIT. “Our CEO sat on the board of governors for several years, and we have established strong collaborative training programs in other sectors in partnership with SAIT. Manpower, as a global leader in the staffing business, understands what the labour market requires and about matching candidates with the labour market demands. But SAIT is the expert in training of occupational skills and has access to state-of-the-art laboratory equipment and instructors. This makes for a perfect partnership in delivering employment-focused training programs to meet current labour market needs.”

SAIT offers four different pathways and technical training in more than 30 trades for both men and women through apprenticeship trainingpre-employment programs and full-time studies. From agricultural equipment technician to wire process operator apprentice, SAIT provides the training necessary to pursue a fulfilling career in the trades.

Dean of manufacturing, automation and transportation Jim Szautner confirms, “Recently we hosted the emPOWER group for 10 weeks of technical training. The group was an all-female cohort gaining experience in a variety of trades. Through the program, they gained technical knowledge, earned safety certificates and met the requirements to start an apprenticeship. Programs like this open pathways for people into valuable trades careers. The group was extremely motivated and performed exceptionally well. Any company will be well served by taking on a person who has completed the emPOWER program.”

Szautner also facilitates the dean’s advisory committee, made up of senior leaders from manufacturing who provide industry sector advice.

Among the talented pool of committee members from fast-growing emerging companies, Szautner praises president and CEO of Bigfoot Industrial, Jesse Messom. “Jesse is an excellent member of my advisory committee. He is a SAIT graduate, journeyperson industrial mechanic (millwright) and president of his company. He brings an exceptional perspective, grounded by his experience as an apprentice, tradesperson and executive. He is a role model employer giving back to the program in which he was once an apprentice. Jesse is a prime example of what makes trades and the apprenticeship model of training so successful.”

Bigfoot Industrial COO Kerri McGrath says the emPOWER program was an overwhelming success and they were honoured to be one of the first pilot/host sites, accommodating five participants. She explains, “The program provides a significant advantage as it covers the basic fundamentals for a person looking to enter the trades; a ‘general studies’ so to speak covering five different trade disciplines to varying degrees. The on-site practicum and work experience are beneficial for the employer as it provides a prolonged period to assess skills, knowledge and capabilities. For the (potential) employee, it offers them a chance (especially when engaged with a multi-trade discipline company like Bigfoot Industrial Services) to really assess which trade focus appeals most to them after being able to apply their curriculum to a real-life setting. They get to effectively ‘try before they buy’ in to their future lifelong career.” It is a unique opportunity that most people don’t have.

The emPOWER program currently includes an introduction into five trades: welding, ironworking, heavy equipment technician, carpentry and plumbing/pipefitting. Brandley says the women also receive safety training and certificates in first aid, WHMIS and CSTS, as well as apprenticeship and industry training exam preparation skills.

Brandley says the program truly empowers women who may not otherwise consider entering the trades due to societal misconceptions. “This program aims to break down those barriers and provide exposure to encourage more women to pursue a career in that sector. These women will be exposed to a variety of different trades so that they can better understand their own preference as well as viable opportunities and a chance to envision themselves working in that field. By breaking down these barriers, we are showing them that yes, you can do this.”

Megan Palko, a labourer at Bigfoot Industrial, was a program participant. She says, “I chose the emPOWER program because I felt stuck in an industry I no longer enjoyed, but couldn’t find a way out of it. I had also been looking to find a welding job, but I really didn’t have the hard skills to be hired on, and the program highlighted a chance to develop hard and soft skills pertaining to the trades and how to market yourself successfully.”

Palko adds, “Aside from getting a job at Bigfoot Industrial, the biggest takeaway from the emPOWER program for me was getting a better understanding of myself and being able to really grow in such a short period of time.”

Amanda Oliver also participated in the program and says it gave her a second chance in her career. “Before I started this journey, I worked in an office setting for 10-plus years. I had lost interest in what I was doing and no longer loved my job. I had thought about getting into a trade for some time, however, was having a hard time ‘getting my foot in the door.’ I knew I loved working with my hands, as I have done it for years. After being let go from a seasonal position, I heard about emPOWER. I was elated thinking this is finally my chance to make a change in my life for the better.”

“We have had significant interest from the trades industry in hiring women specifically and have established placement opportunities for participants in some of the key businesses in Calgary,” confirms Brandley.