What Needs To Change To Get More Women Into Apprenticeship? - No More Lip Service!
By Marcia Braundy, National Coordinator, Witt National Network
Published by OISE Centre for Women's Studies in: "Strategies That Work: Women In Trades and Technology"
Perhaps the frequency with which I have been asked of late, "what needs to change to get more women into apprenticeship?" is a positive sign of the times. Having answered that question far too often in the past 10 years with little or no change, my response has become somewhat more pointed.
Canadian demographics show us that far fewer young people will be entering the labour force in the 1990's, and very large percentages of our older skilled workers will be retiring. Whether we are in or out of recession, there are shortages of skilled workers in many occupations. Women and the other groups designated under the Employment Equity Act (Visible Minorities, Aboriginal People, and People with Disabilities) are making up the vast majority of new labour force entrants. The integration and utilization of these individuals into well-paying skilled and technical occupations has become a human resource and labour market adjustment issue rather than solely a social justice issue.
The Employment and Immigration Canada (EIC) National Apprenticeship Survey, conducted in 1989/90 had very little useable information on gender differentials in Apprenticeship and only the comment that "very few women [12% of the total enrolment] registered for the apprenticeship trades; 76% of those who did, selected a barbering/hairdressing/beautician program and 12% selected a cooking/baking program." Further exploration of EIC training data informs us that the participation rate of women in EIC funded technical apprenticeship programs is 3%, except in Ontario, where approximately 5% of the total technical apprentices are female. The percentages of women in the 12 largest industrial and construction trades in British Columbia have been dropping since the mid-1980's. This is demonstrated by a document prepared by the Province and BC/Yukon EIC Economic Services: "Apprenticeship Trends." Included in this document is a chart that looks at the numbers of males and females registering, completing and discontinuing for the years 1984 to 1991. The actual numbers for women registered as Carpentry and Electrical apprentices have decreased or increased only slightly, while the number male apprentices have increased manyfold.
The only significant increases took place in 1986, 1987 and 1988; years when there were a significant number (8-13) of WITT exploratory courses in the Province of BC. The province was still experiencing devastating recession at that time. The numbers of women in apprenticeship decreased as the economy and work picture got better.
In Alberta, "in 1981 there were 547 female apprentices, in July, 1992, there were 695 (excluding Hairstylist and Beautician). (Total number of apprentices: 21,267) If we remove the trades with over 20 percent female participation (Hairstylist, Beautician, Cook, Baker, Landscape Gardener, and Print and Graphic Arts Craftsman [sic!], we are left with 268 apprentices....Women participation rates as electricians (1.07%), machinists (0.49%), heavy duty mechanics (0.13%), millwrights (0.51%) would indicate females have made no major gains in entering these trades. Of the 53 designated trades in Alberta, there are 17 trades with no female participants. These participation rates have changed relatively little over the past decade."
It is unclear whether this trend exists right across the country, as the statistics are not very well kept in all the provinces. We do know that the only province where real progress has taken place is in Ontario, where formalized and funded efforts have been made to increase the numbers of women in apprenticeship across the province. This has resulted in a 70% increase to 1700 female apprentices in technical occupations. The Province of Newfoundland has recently produced a "Blueprint for Skills Development: Planning for Diversity in Apprenticeship" document which, if implemented, could change the face of Apprenticeship across the country.
Even so, for the most part, Apprenticeship has not been given a high priority provincially, and Equity has been given even less. If provinces were serious, they would mandate their apprenticeship counsellors to go out and sell apprenticeship to employers and unions. The counsellors would market equity candidates to fill those apprenticeships. Provincially, municipally and federally, governments as employers would take a leadership role in training by setting up apprenticeships throughout the public service in appropriate departments, allocating a percentage of those to designated group members.
No More Lip Service!
My initial response now to what has to change is: "no more lip service!" I am tired of being invited to speak on the subject for this employer group or that employment equity association or government department, for this employer or union, and then, for the most part, when I leave, they thank me for coming and do nothing to follow up on the issues that were identified. A few have made real change or are actively working on it: Ontario Hydro, Toronto Hydro, Nova Scotia Power Corp, St. John Shipbuilding, Department of National Defense, CN Rail, BC Telephone, the Canadian Auto Workers, the Steelworkers among others. Many are writing a bit about it, getting advice from consultants - lip service until we see women getting real training and jobs. Senior level commitment and active front line implementation is the only way it will really happen. Many employers are still saying, "we can't find any women;" women are still saying "no one will hire us".
EIC is still making it next to impossible to access training unless you know exactly what you want and have had a job that paid well enough to provide enough unemployment insurance to support you while going through the training available only to UI recipients who haven't quit their jobs. Funds for Apprenticeship training have been capped for 5 years, and when the federal government says they will "lift the cap for equity initiatives under Apprenticeship, " we find there is no new money for this. The designated group members must compete with existing training programs for the shrinking pot of training dollars.
EIC counsellors still are not referring women and other equity group members to apprenticeship training, and insist they are not interested. And yet, when a short advertisement by Algonquin College over a holiday weekend filled two exploratory courses for women that were about to be cancelled due to EIC's perception of lack of interest, and a similar ad in Courtney brought 80 women to apply for a course with only 8 seats.
WITT Exploratory And Technical Training Courses
"Bridging Programs are affirmative action programs. They compensate for inadequacies in people's earlier education or learning. They assume that people were unable to acquire necessary information or skills earlier because of socio-economic circumstances or membership in a particular group. Bridging programs are meant to provide some compensation for systemic barriers in formal and informal education. They aim to 'level the playing field', to alleviate systemic disadvantages and to assist in gaining access to, or in successfully completing training and job searching."
Bridging Programs, generally, are those that assist people, often women, who are entering or re- entering the labour force, to develop life skills, career planning and job search skills. Often, academic upgrading is built in, to allow for the development of entry level requirements for a chosen occupational field. Although the idea of pursuing a career in a trade, technical or blue collar job may be introduced, it is not explored in depth. There is usually some emphasis placed on Computer Literacy, but more of the focus is on Self-Assessment, Communication skills, Job Market Research, Decision Making and Goal Setting, Assertiveness, Managing the Requirements of Home and Work, and Problem Solving. There is usually a Work Placement component to put some of these newly learned skills into action. The idea is to create a "Bridge" from home, or minimal labour force attachment, to either training or employment of some kind.
WITT exploratory courses contain most of the units described for Bridging Programs. But they focus more particulary on Examining Labour Market Trends and Employment Opportunities in Trades and Technology, actually Developing Occupational Fitness, Safe Work Practices, and on theory and practical expertise in a variety of trades and technical areas. These would include many of the components that are useful across the technical areas - for example: Processing Technical Information, Drafting and Blueprint reading, and Using Basic Measuring, Layout, Hand and Power Tools in Carpentry, Electrical, Metal, Mechanics, Robotics, Forestry shops, truck driving, building maintenance, etc. - and areas in the technologies where women have also been previously under-represented i.e. electronics, computers, construction and forest technologies, aerospace, and others. A course might feature 4 or 5 of these technical subject areas in some detail, depending on the local/regional industrial requirements. At the same time, the students would be learning about the responsibilities and rights of workers and employers on the job, Industrial Health and Safety, Overcoming Societal Barriers that may be encountered, Human Rights and Employment Equity Legislation and other realities of the industrial workplace.
In WITT courses, there are often tours of construction sites and industrial workplaces, and films and discussions with women who have effectively entered these occupations. These are role models who can describe the joys and sense of tangible accomplishments as well as the challenges, and how best to prepare for them. The students have at least one and sometimes more 3-4 week work experiences on- the-job, to get a strong understanding of the requirements of that occupational area. These are not Powder Puff courses, and must be given access to the Institutional resources and facilities to become the rigorous training ground necessary to prepare women to work successfully in trades, technology and operations (TTO) work.
Successful courses are 5-6 months in length, full-time, and by the end the women are prepared to make an informed career decision about which, if any, trade or technical training area she wants to pursue, or what other area might be of greater interest. Because she has had the opportunity to climb the scaffolding, work with the men, work in the grease, the tools, the wiring, in the forest, with the transistors, the robots, etc., the choice she makes to enter further technical training will be a committed one. If she decides that the skills or the environment are beyond her present capabilities, and decides to set her sights in another direction, and goes to work as a bus or truck driver, a correctional officer, a groundskeeper, a teacher's aide, a clerk, is that any less of a success? But the reality is that 63% of the women who went through exploratory courses (1983-1987) were employed a the time of the survey (1988) and another 12.8% were still enroled in training.
The Canadian Automotive Repair and Service (CARS) Council recently completed a study of women who were either in technical training programs as motor vehicle service technicians or who were in an apprenticeship in that or a related field. The study was to determine what made for successful experiences for women in these fields, what attracted them etc. A significant percentage of those women surveyed had graduated from either a WITT or INTO exploratory program. This has led CARS to consider piloting pre-apprenticeship automotive programs for women, along with their proposal for an automotive service technician program for both men and women.
What needs to change is the number, availability and quality of exploratory courses in trades and technology for women. These courses need to meet the "National Standards and Program Development Guidelines" set by the National WITT DACUM Advisory Committee and the Industrial Adjustment Service Committee of the WITT National Network. They need to be implemented in every college in the country, and recognized as feeder courses to the regular trades and technology training programs. The courses need to have Advisory Committees made up of representatives from local industries and unions to ensure viability of training and commitment to appropriate work placements and potential employment. Funding for these programs must become more integrated into college programming, to ensure staff are available for ongoing follow-up and support.
Women coming out of these exploratory programs need to be assured of reserved spaces in technical training programs. Sitting on a long waitlist they have previously been excluded from will do nothing but discourage women who have worked hard to make an informed choice to enter a field that has been closed to them in the past. Special measures are necessary to overcome the effects of past discrimination, regardless of whether that discrimination was overt or systemic.
For those who cry foul, who say that they were not the ones who discriminated, why should they suffer "reverse discrimination", I say let them join us in reversing the discrimination against women and minorities, even if it means waiting for their turn to access training and jobs that have been denied to others for far too long.
Changing Workplace Culture
"Empowerment of recruits is not enough. It must be accompanied by a second type of intervention, directed toward those who control the training and workplace culture. Sensitization of faculty, staff, and students in post-secondary institutions will be essential to fostering a more accepting training environment. Sensitization of employers, unions, and other employees regarding barriers to and proper treatment of designated group members will be crucial to successful employment and retention in the trades."
Re-training assistance must be provided for instructors to help them understand and develop strategies for teaching a greater diversity of learning styles. Women, First Nations people, people with disabilities, each learn most effectively in different ways. Some require more instructor attention than the instructors have given in the past. Some require more independent study. Our teacher training must learn to accommodate those differences and assist instructors to develop and use a variety of teaching strategies appropriate to the students.
Instructors must also recognize their role and responsibility in fostering a healthy, woman-friendly learning and working environment, in the classroom and on the shop floor. If they set the tone, the students will model that behaviour. If they ignore the potential situations because "it's not my job", incidents can escalate to unpleasantness very quickly.
We must all begin to understand and show the public the ways in which the development of effective tool skills can lead to increased self-esteem. This will ultimately lead to a more positive view of apprenticeable trades in the general population. As well, more accurate information about apprenticeable occupations, and how to access them, must be made available to junior and senior secondary school counsellors and community-based agencies working with the designated groups.
The greatest single block for women in apprenticeship is to get their first job. And after that, changing the attitudes and behaviour of co-workers and other employers through education and firm corporate policies is essential. Employers must be strongly encouraged to train, and incentive programs should be offered to those employers who hire and retain female apprentices and members of other designated groups. Special measures can be used to provide support and assistance in dealing with harassment and other issues for both the women and the other employees. Contact with local WITT groups can help companies develop these solutions.
Unions must take seriously their commitment to equity. When it takes 12-14 years to build up the seniority to bid on an apprenticeship in an industrial setting, and with the cyclical turns in the economy, women who are often the last hired, never made it to that point before they get laid off. This will mean looking at seniority and examining the possibility of proportional layoff, or providing equity hires with a certain level of average plant seniority to ensure they are not the first out the door. The Building Trades run to indenture new apprentices at the first sign of an upturn in the economy, but few women have been included in those many new apprentices. The construction trade unions must begin to actively recruit and indenture women, providing the support systems and stewards training necessary to retain them.
Lip service is just not enough. A real commitment to change and an action plan that includes responsibility and accountability are necessary.
Implement Models For Change
Some models of change activities are included in the Ontario Women's Access to Apprenticeship Program. Over 30 projects around the province work with women to ensure they have the right skill sets to enter the apprenticeship of their choice, with employers and unions to obtain a commitment to hire, train and retain the women in apprenticeship. They work with educational institutions to ensure appropriate exploratory and technical training is available and the women are supported through the system. These programs have led to a 70% increase in female indentures in technical apprenticeships to 1700 this year. Newfoundland has already begun the workshops for counsellors and employers recommended in its "Blueprint for Skills Development." It is time we all took some responsibility and began to actually implement those programs that we know can make a difference, and experiment with some new models as well.
For change to take place in getting more women into apprenticeship, we must all stop pretending we are not part of the problem. If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. The "old boys" must consciously and conscientiously not only open their doors, but actively recruit and train women from all the designated groups. For it is only when we achieve the critical mass mentioned by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, whether that's 13% or 15% or more, that we will have a workforce, drawn from the best of all of our people, that can work together as the team that Canada will need to continue to be the innovator that we show some small promise in becoming.