Canada’s first female Red Seal ironworker says support and opportunities are changing the face of construction sites
By Maggie Budden
There was a game we played when we were kids where you had to find the object that didn’t belong.
That’s the reality for many women that show up on a construction site for the first time. At roughly four per cent across the country, a woman on a job site is sometimes a rare find — but that’s changing.
And, I am proud to say, I’m a part of that change.
I’m the first female Red Seal ironworker in Canada. I am now the project co-ordinator for the newly opened Office to Advance Women Apprentices in Cape Breton. And now, every day I get to go to work and introduce even more women to a career path I never thought I would end up on.
I was born and raised in Cape Breton in a family of ironworkers — both my brother and father were in the trade — never thinking their career choice could be mine, too. But, after trying cake decorating and telemarketing, I realized I didn’t have a passion for what I was doing and the income wasn’t dependable.
NO ROOM FOR WOMEN
Growing up, my father had made it clear that women didn’t belong in the trades. It took some coaxing, but my father finally gave me an opportunity to try my hand at welding. He was a tough teacher, giving me a hard time and challenging me every step of the way. But his guidance and mentorship made me realize I could do it. He instilled in me a strong work ethic, and the ability to work for and with, anyone.
Ironwork, like many unionized skilled trades, offers a career path that is financially rewarding; you work hard, and in return you earn an income you can raise a family on.
The nature of construction often requires you to work far from home. I spent many years traveling throughout Western Canada, working on large development and industrial projects. Trying my craft in a variety of projects and environments meant every day was an exciting challenge. Often the only woman on a jobsite, I earned respect by putting in the hard work and felt supported and recognized on the job by my fellow members.
In recent months, investments by both provincial and federal governments in Nova Scotia have led to a boom in opportunities to get into the skilled trades. These projects are tied to community benefits agreements that specifically create opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups to start an apprenticeship. But, in order to set people up for success, we need to ensure we equip them with the tools to do it, just like an apprenticeship.
The Office to Advance Women Apprentices Cape Breton, a project of Canada’s Building Trades Unions, will follow the model used by the other six offices throughout Canada and will offer the same services, like mentoring, career services, recruitment, employment support and networking opportunities.
STARTED IN NEWFOUNDLAND
The program started in Newfoundland and Labrador, and women now account for roughly 13 per cent of skilled tradespeople in that province, largely thanks to the supports and services offered by the Office to Advance Women Apprentices.
When I was on the tools, I enjoyed going to work every day. In this role, I have the opportunity to introduce women to the skilled trades, provide supports to give them a better chance of success, help build our beautiful island and, if I’m lucky, help to change a life.
To learn more about the Office to Advance Women Apprentices, Cape Breton, go to www.womenapprentices.ca
Maggie Budden is the project co-ordinator of the Office to Advance Women Apprentices Cape Breton. She lives in Boularderie Island in Cape Breton. Email [email protected]
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