Women Play Increasingly Vital Role In Future Of Construction In Canada
VICTORIA – Kristine Byers was in middle school when she asked her parents for a scroll saw for her birthday.
It was the first power tool she ever owned.
“My passion for woodworking began as a kid, when it was mandatory in school to try different trades,” remembers Kristine who has been adding to that power-tool collection since becoming a carpenter thirteen years ago. Today, she’s a representative and instructor for the BC Regional Council of Carpenters, servicing members across BC and the Yukon. She also sits as a trustee on the executive board for Local 1907, Metro Vancouver, and heads the council’s Sisters in the Brotherhood women’s committee.
Despite loving the trade from a young age, she took a different career path after high school, attending the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario, on track to becoming a military officer. Kristine soon realized it wasn’t the right career for her and enrolled in a pre-apprenticeship carpentry and joinery class.
Her story of career change is all too familiar for women in construction, who account for just four percent of the skilled construction trades. Based on this, young women leaving high school might not consider it a viable career, no matter how much they excelled in shop class.
Yuka Yoshino of Local 1598, Victoria, a soon-to-be journey-person, changed careers from retail to carpentry after taking an aptitude test. Yuka, who immigrated to Canada from Japan in 2008, had been struggling to support her two young children after the passing of her husband.
“I sought help from an immigrant settlement organization,” she recalls. “They had me take a test, and it showed I should be in the trades. I didn’t know women could be in the trades!” Back in Japan, Yuka’s relatives were surprised. “It’s a very different culture here in Canada. Women in carpentry are rare in Japan, but my family knows I’m able to support my family because of the good union wage I earn.”
Still, with women comprising such a small percentage of construction workers, there are challenges, including harassment, bullying and discrimination. Hearteningly, times are changing, thanks to everything from financial incentives for tuition to the BC NDP government’s Community Benefits Agreement, providing opportunities for women on public infrastructure projects, something supported by most British Columbians.
Says Kristine, “In many ways, women are the future of skilled construction trades, and that’s pretty fantastic.”