July - August 2024


Jill of All Trades aims to get more girls and women into skilled trades

On May 31, 2023, Conestoga College hosted a special Jill of All Trades event at its new Conestoga College Reuter campus. Since 2014, Jill of All Trades has been bringing hundreds of young women together with industry leaders and advocates to help them explore the potential of a career in a skilled trade.

The program aims to do more than simply close the gender gap in the trades. It is helping to train some of the more than 100,000 new skilled tradespeople that Ontario needs to meet the province’s growing population.

Brenda Gilmore, retired chair and co-founder Jill of All Trades Conestoga College, said multiple factors have impacted the number of skilled tradespeople across Ontario and Canada. These factors include an aging population, lower birth rates, and a mismatch in the skills of high school and post-secondary students.

“Thousands of students continue to pursue degrees that don’t match what’s needed. Companies, such as the construction companies that are members of the GVCA, are having difficulty finding workers. There are good wages in the construction trades, and our hope is that young people will choose a skilled trade,” Gilmore said.

Attracting more young women to the trades means starting the conversation earlier in their schooling. Gilmore wants to spur conversations about the trades to help young women see the career opportunities available.

“Roughly 4% of those employed in the trades are women—and we want to change that. That’s where Rosie and I came together, and we decided we needed to do an event that was impactful,” Gilmore said.

Rosie Hessian, chair of the college’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Director at Jill of All Trades, added that multiple school boards had approached the college with the same problem. There wasn’t anything available that promoted trades for young women.

“We looked at it closely, and Brenda and I said we needed to do something across Canada, starting it with Conestoga College. We decided to bring students from eight school boards together for one big event—and that’s how Jill of All Trades started in 2014,” Hessian said.

Jill of All Trades’ events includes hands-on activities and workshops, mentorship, and talks on career opportunities in the skilled trades. Hessian added that programming is driven by their conversations with industry partners, public school boards, and other post-secondary institutions.

“Our vision for Jill of all trades was definitely encouraged by a network of community partners. We’re going across Canada, across North America, in hopes that we, as a community, can come together to promote women in skilled trades,” Hessian said.

Mentorship is one of the most critical needs for bringing more young women into the trades. Hessian said hearing from experienced women tradespeople and other industry leaders provides an opportunity for young women to see themselves on a similar career path.

“They’re telling their story to these young women who see it as a pathway that they could take. One that could change their life. For many, they didn’t know that this type of career was possible or that it even existed,” Hessian said. “We have young girls who are choosing skilled trades careers because of these events.”

As the demand for skilled tradespeople increases, Gilmore said that GVCA members have an essential role in creating a talent pipeline. Conestoga College’s School of Trades and Apprenticeship Program Advisory Committees (PACs) are one way to get involved. Each PAC meets two to three times a year to help guide the college’s programs and inform its staff and faculty on what they can do to help train the workforce of the future.

“It’s also very helpful for your team to mentor our young women. Do you have part-time job opportunities for them while they’re still in school or summer employment? Those pieces are very important for us to expand our voice,” Gilmore said.

Visit to learn more about the program and how you can get involved.

July – August 2023
Article Author: Alex Kinsella


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