May 21, 2024

Okanagan College hosted a ‘Jill of All Trades’ event in Kelowna May 15 to attract more women to trades

By Mark MacDonald

BRITISH COLUMBIA – Although women have made some strong strides into the construction industry in recent years, some of the typical challenges of entering a traditionally male-dominated sector remain.

According to the B.C. Construction Association (BCCA), women currently represent 5.7 percent of the total workforce. That stands for 9,536 women and shows a 24 percent increase over the past five years, so there is still plenty of room for females to enter and thrive in the industry.

It is well known that there is a shortage of workers – male and female – in construction trades. So, how can a construction company make itself an attractive place for women?

Getting the word out is one obvious way, letting prospective workers know that a company offers a welcoming and inclusive environment where women can grow and earn top wages in a wide variety of positions throughout the firm.

Before that, however, systems and procedures must be put in place to back up promises of equality, so that new employees won’t be disappointed when they arrive that what was promised and expected, exists.

Sandy Morris, owner of Sandmor Construction Ltd. in Kelowna

The entire industry would benefit if companies choose to highlight the successes of existing employees, as there are plenty of examples of women leading construction firms and excelling in the office and the field. When those good stories are shared, others could become enthused about prospects and become interested.

Put the spotlight on women champions within the construction sector is something that needs to be done more. Not that there aren’t fine examples already – it’s just that there are many others that are not yet known.

Efforts continue to attract more women into trades. For example, Okanagan College held its inaugural “Jill Of All Trades” event at their Kelowna campus May 15.

There, 100 female high school students from the Okanagan, Similkameen and Shuswap areas heard from mentors like Sandy Morris, who has been involved in residential construction for more than 15 years and now owns her own construction business, Sandmor Construction Ltd. She was joined by other female industry mentors, including aircraft maintenance engineer Amanda Kury from KF Aerospace and Krista Ohman-Relph, an electrician and crew chief at BC Hydro, to inspire young women to find their passion in the fulfilling world of trades.

“I’ve felt very fortunate to have been able to not just break into the construction industry but end up owning my own construction company,” says Morris. “I hope in some small way I can show the girls where you can take your career – there are so many different areas to go into and progress to, even owning your own business.”

Sara Cousins, OC’s manager of Trades programming, has been working in OC’s Trades and Apprenticeship department for almost 10 years and says OC is committed to supporting women in trades and promoting diversity within the industry, and that more than 20 per cent of OC Trades Foundation students are now female

“We have priority seats available to female applicants to help support their access and increase diversity in trades,” Sara says. “Our goal is to continue to develop the workforce of the future and increase the number of tradespeople overall in our region and the province. There are currently a lot of job openings in the trades with careers that typically pay well and provide many benefits. The average Red Seal tradesperson in Canada’s salary is now $111,500.”

Women have been enjoying top-flight careers in the industry throughout B.C.

Jas Sangha, CEO of Crown Building Supplies in Surrey

In Surrey, Jas Sangha, a CPA, is now CFO of Crown Building Supplies in Surrey, having worked her way up from the bottom of accounting all the way to the top.

“I am one of the founding members of Crown and helped establish the company from inception, focusing mainly finance department, which I lead today,” she notes. “It’s been extremely challenging as I’ve had to ‘prove’ my abilities to not only the partners and staff members, but also customers and vendors, who still look towards to the male partners.

“However, after 10 years, it is very well known in the industry that I am one of the decision-makers in this company.”

Jas believes the greatest challenge is a woman’s mindset.

“If you are confident and believe in your skills and knowledge, you can overcome any hurdle that you may face,” she notes. “We also have to start with changing the mindset of men first. Men need to advocate for women and believe in us that we too can do their jobs and do them well.

“I have been working on making women feel included in this industry. I myself have been hiring women in our organization and personally mentoring and training them.”

Lori Simcox is CEO of SPAL General Constructors Ltd., a project management company in North Vancouver created by Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

Lori has led several consulting projects for the federal government, worked on projects for small business, and works as an internal management consultant in several sectors for the Economic Development department of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation.

Lori Simcox, s CEO of SPAL General Constructors Ltd. in North Vancouver

She has been a leader in Indigenous engagement and contracting, negotiating local involvement and successfully securing multi-million dollar contracts throughout B.C. with over 30 prime industry leaders.

“Earlier in my career there were more challenges than I have now,” she recalls. “I knew I needed to work hard and deliver which I believe grew trust with partners and really showcased the value and benefits of collaborating with First Nations. On direction of my late Director, Leonard George and current Director Matt Thomas, I spent time focusing on ensuring good business relationships were developed which have paved the way for more opportunities.”

Some of her favorite projects she’s been involved with was the Shipyard Modernization project with Seaspan, and the Centerm Expansion Project, led by the Centennial Expansion Partners.

“There a lot more women in the industry now but I think women are still underrepresented in leadership positions,” she says. “There also often exists some gender bias when it comes to the industry with some people assuming a lack of knowledge and experience.”

These are examples of women being successful in leadership positions, but as statistics show, there is plenty of opportunity for more.

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