Women and Work, Taking the Initiative
Marcia Braundy - WITT National Network

Hello, and welcome to a wonderfully historic event for the Province of Newfoundland. Women in Science and Engineering here are using the opportunity of their annual general meeting to foster the development of a WITT organization in this province. I am honoured to have been invited to provide a keynote to that activity. I believe that WITT and WISE share many of the same barriers, and many of the same satisfactions in their work. It seems fitting to describe the history of WITT activity in Canada, and share in the exploration of some of the solutions the WITT National Network is developing to increase the numbers and enhance the experience of women working in trades, technology, operations and blue collar work. WISE women may see the potential benefits of some of these initiatives as well.

Before I go into the history of WITT, I would like to talk a little about terminology. The WITT National Network continues to advocate for a change in the terminology, "non- traditional." Since men have been doing these jobs for centuries, referring to them only when women do them sets those women apart and isolates them as if they do not really belong. Many young women do not want to be non-traditional, they want to be just like everyone else, but they would like to earn more money. These are areas where women are underrepresented, and it is not easy to find a term that refers to all the many jobs we are talking about. Trades, technology and operations, TTOs, describe the work rather than the characteristics of the women doing the work.

WITT History

In 1980, we had the first Women In Trades Conference in Canada, in Winnipeg. We were told by then Minister of EIC, Lloyd Axworthy, that Canada was facing a demographic situation that would lead to extreme skill shortages, and that we needed to start training women now to be able to fill those shortfalls. The 1981 recession followed, and business cut back severely on training, and on any efforts to integrate women into their technical or operational workforce. Some women were still being trained at pre-trades and pre-technology exploratory courses in the country. In 1985, the Employment Equity Legislation was passed, and as we moved into 1988, the first reporting year, I thought it would be important to look at how this legislation was affecting women in trades and technical fields. I had been hearing from employers that they couldn't find any women, and from women that no one would hire them, and from EIC that women weren't interested in this work. It was time to bring these groups face to face.

Working for Kootenay WITT, my home organization, I organized Surviving and Thriving - Women in Trades and Technology and Employment Equity in 1988. It was a national conference and took place in Naramata, British Columbia. The first two days were reserved for women training or working in TTO jobs, and their resource people. It was an opportunity to share our experiences and find our common ground; to develop an analysis and explore potential solutions. For the second two days, we were joined by employers, unions government and educators, to identify the ways that we might work together on solutions, and to hear about the nuts and bolts of programs developed to address our common issues. All of the workshops were audio-taped, many were videotaped, and 30 presentations were transcribed and edited for the book, Surviving and Thriving - Women in Trades and Technology and Employment Equity, published a year later. The book also contained the 9 pages of recommendations that came out of the workshops and final plenary session.

It was as a result of those recommendations that the National Network was formed, to act as a national advocacy organization to foster the implementation of those recommendations, as well as to foster the development of WITT advocacy groups across the country to act as a local support to women entering and working in the field, and to work with local employers, unions, governments and educators to further enhance the experience of women on the front lines.

Equity And Demographics As The Backdrop

Employment Equity legislation and the Federal Contractors Program, as well as similar initiatives at the Provincial level provided some opportunities as senior managements tried to, at least look like they were doing something. But more recently, the spectre of the demographic situation described by Axworthy in 1980 is becoming the reality of today's labour market. When we came out of the last recession, there were skill shortages in many occupations in Canada. It will only get worse, regardless of the fact that Central Canada is in another recession today.

I will give you a short demographic picture: From 1970 to 1985, there were 300,000 new entrants to the labour market every year. The baby boomers were entering the work world in force. Along with this trend, women were entering the labour market in greater numbers than in the past, and were staying, taking only short leaves, less than a year, for childbearing and rearing. Canadian industry had many workers from which to choose.

In 1990, there were only 160,000 new entrants to the labour market, barely half what existed in the '70s and '80s. And this group had a much more diverse make-up. The majority of new entrants was not the traditional white males who had made up the Canadian workforce for many decades. Women, visible minorities, Aboriginal people and people with disabilities now make up the majority of new entrants. The half generation before the baby boomers, and the baby boomers themselves, have had fewer children. We have been making up for some of that through Immigration, but many of the new immigrants are coming from other than the traditional European sources. The shortages have been increased by the fact that young people have been encouraged to go into white-collar work for the past 20-30 years, and apprenticeships and blue collar occupations have been looked down upon. Science and Technology was seen as the harder route to a satisfactory economic life, when becoming an MBA offered faster, easier returns.

The shortages we are experiencing in science, engineering, trades, technical and operational jobs is the result. It is an economic necessity for Canada's industrial well-being to expand the traditional view of who are the skilled workers of today, and to provide them with the training and experience necessary and the access to jobs required to ensure they are becoming our productive workforce of tomorrow.

Many of these new entrants are adult learners. They are women who are re-entering the labour force after long absences or finding themselves unable to support a family on the traditional low wage, often part-time work that women have been relegated to in the past. They are Aboriginal people who are trying to develop skills which will enhance their abilities to manage their own affairs effectively. They are immigrants, both women and men, who for social or political reasons find themselves in a new and foreign country Regardless of the reasons, the reality is that integrating these new workers has become more than a social justice issue. It is an economic necessity.

We know that we must not only educate, but we must also re-educate. 80% of the workers to be found in the workplace in the year 2000 are already in the workforce today. And we must also train for skills needed right across the country, as we face the aging and "middle aging" of our current skilled workforce. We must train now, before we looks the older workers who have the skills to be passed on. While the service sector, with its low paying, dead-end jobs is the fastest growing sector of the economy, it is also true that close to half the jobs being created today will require 4-5 years combined education and training beyond high school. We must start where people are, to ensure the workforce of tomorrow, because while other countries are competing for a portion of the world markets with Canada, Canadian employers will be competing with each other for the shrinking numbers of workers, and particularly trained and skilled workers.

Looking At Work As A Career

Traditionally, women have not been encouraged to develop career goals in the same way that men have. Their expectations of themselves and the world of work were fairly low, based on the assumption that Prince Charming would come along and take care of all their worldly needs. Now we know that more than 42% of all women who work are heads of their own households, single women and single parent families. Most of the other 58% are married and work to bring their family's income up above the poverty line. We also know that the participation rate for women in Canada with children under three is 58.3%. Most women work 30 - 50 years in the paid labour force. With this information in mind, it becomes imperative that we begin to look at women's involvement in the world of work in terms of a career, one that will see them through their lives with real economic stability, rather than as previously thought, just getting a "job" that will "see them through until they get married or have children...." In 1988, 74.9% of all Canadian women between the ages of 25 and 34 worked in the paid labour force.

Even if women are fortunate enough to gain the pre-training and experience necessary to be able to make a choice to go into a trade or technical job, there are still challenges they will encounter finding work, being hired, and working in an atmosphere that is quite foreign, often in an all male environment. Orientation training, for both the women and for the men they will be working with is often necessary to ensure a successful integration process.

The Work Of The National Network

The WITT National Network has been working on all of these fronts over the past three and a half years, and we are having some successes and some potential successes. I would like to share some of this work with you. But first I would like to tell you a little about the groups that are working on a local level all over the country. The energy generated by the conference saw the development or resurgence of groups in almost every province and territory. For some, this meant WITT women meeting to discuss what was happening at school or on the job, sharing experiences and providing the essential support for women who often work isolated in situations with all-male co-workers and find the communication with women who are having similar experiences an affirmation. Other groups provide role models to speak to jr & sr secondary students. These talks can inspire many young women that they too can do this work, which many of us find so satisfying, and challenging. Some groups also do advocacy work, talking to educational institutions, governments, and employers about what kinds of policies, training, recruitment and retention strategies they might use to encourage women to go into these fields and be successful once they are on the job.

WITT Exploratory Courses

WITT courses are one of the ways we have identified to give women the orientation and basic skills necessary to make an informed choice about a career, particularly one in TTO jobs, is a pre-trades or technology course for women. In a WITT course, Women In Trades and Technology courses, as they are sometimes called, women have the opportunity to learn, both in theory and in hands-on practice, to use tools safely and effectively in a variety of trades and technical occupations.

The courses also provide life skills development and career planning and job search skills. These include Computer Literacy, Self-Assessment, Communication skills, Job Market Research, Decision Making and Goal Setting, Assertiveness, and Managing the Requirements of Home and Work, and Problem Solving. Often, academic upgrading is built in, to allow for the development of entry level requirements for a chosen occupational field. There is usually a Work Placement to put some of these newly learned skills into action. Other very important components of these courses include Examining Labour Market Trends and Employment Opportunities in Trades and Technology, actually Developing Occupational Fitness, Safe Work Practices, and some 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 such as Processing Technical Information, Drafting and Blueprint reading, and Using Basic Measuring, Layout, Hand and Power Tools in Carpentry, Electrical, Metal, Mechanics, Electronics, Robotics, Forestry and others. A course might feature 4 or 5 of these latter subject areas in some detail, depending on the local industrial requirements. At the same time, the students would be learning about the responsibilities of workers and employers on the job, Rights and Obligations in the Workplace, 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 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. These are not Powder Puff courses, and must be given access to the resources and facilities to become the rigorous training ground necessary to prepare women to work successfully in trades, technology and operations work.

WITT National Network has been fostering the implementation of these courses. As a member of the National Task Force on Apprenticeship, I was able to gain a consensus among labour and business leaders in Canada to recommend these courses be implemented in every college in the country, and that they have advisory committee made up of business, labour, WITT advocates and educators, to ensure the quality of the course as well as ensuring some investment on the part of industry to provide access to the workplace for the women at the end of their training.

A National Databank Inventory

The next phase after exploratory training is entry into and graduation from particular trades or technology training programs. To assist the women when they graduate, again at the recommendation of the Surviving and Thriving Conference, we are in the process of developing a National Databank Inventory of tradeswomen, technologists and blue collar workers in Canada. Employers, who "just can't find any women" will be able to come to us and say they are looking for x number of women qualified or qualifiable in a particular field, and we will give the name of that company to a specific number of potential women workers in their recruitment area, thus respecting the privacy of the women. At the same time, the women will be able to network with other women in their geographical area who may be having similar experiences and be able to give each other some support. We are also hoping to be able to undertake significant research, both with the women, and with those employers who are doing a good job at hiring, training, and retaining women in TTO jobs.

This will assist us in developing programs and advocacy directed at increasing the numbers and enhancing the experience of women training and working in the field.

Integrating Women Into Jobs Is A Labour Market Adjustment Issue

Another initiative of the network is based on the recommendation that we need to work together with all the players who have a responsibility to act in regard to these issues. We have a national Industrial Adjustment agreement, sponsored by EIC which looks at the integration of women into these fields as a labour market adjustment issue. High profile people from business, unions, government and education are sitting together with WITT women to develop solutions to problems encountered in the integration process. Nancy Riche, Executive VP of the CLC, Marie Tellier, Ass't VP of EE at CN Rail, Ed Tickles, VP of Operations at SAIT, among about 14 others are working with us to make the changes that will make it easier for all of us. For us, the recognition and the willingness to work together are setting the stage for the kind of support and effort that will make a difference.

This committee is looking at front-line education being done by companies, unions and educational institutions with supervisors, co-workers, vocational instructors etc, the men who are most involved with the women as they enter training and work. Once we see what is being done, and identify the gaps, we will develop bibliographies and programming to be used by other employers, unions, and training institutes. The committee is also looking at Role-Modelling projects that are going on across the country with an eye to increasing the numbers of girls and women going into these fields. We are looking at the Employment Equity Legislation to recommend changes in this year of review, and we are looking at how we can help the development of grassroots WITT groups in other places in the country.

As well as responding to particular situations needing advocacy, and either handling it ourselves, or passing it on to the local WITT groups, we are in the process of developing the next national conference which will be happening in February of 1992. We hope to have a strong representation from Newfoundland at the next conference.

As you can see, there is a great deal of work being done on our behalf. There is strength in networks, and we have been able to accomplish a great deal, building on many factors: the energy of the conference, supportive employers, unions, educator and government personnel; the Equity Legislation, the Demographic picture, and most importantly, the desires of many individual women working in TTO jobs across the country to help themselves and their sisters to train and work in a world where we all are able to develop our skills and our self-esteem. A place where men and women work together to build and maintain the world we live in.

Taking The Initiative

Women must take the initiative to help themselves. By doing so, we make the way easier for our younger sisters and other women who, through a WITT course or a supportive counsellor, find themselves interested in training or working in science, engineering, trades, technology, operations and blue collar work.


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