Jill of All Trades shows female high school students futures in the trades

Young women are “an untapped market” for trades in need of workers

On Thursday Nov. 24, with the kickoff of “Jill of All Trades” at NAIT, the average age of students on campus dipped while female participation in trades in Alberta temporarily spiked.

An annual event that started at Ontario’s Conestoga College in 2014, Jill of All Trades was held for the first time this year at post-secondary institutes across Canada. Its goal is to introduce female high-school students to the prospect of rewarding careers in the trades.

NAIT was among the host schools, welcoming nearly 100 participants from Edmonton and northern Alberta to try their hands at more than a dozen trades. At workshops across campus, students got a firsthand feel for welding, carpentry and many more – in addition to hearing from women in the field who shared their own experiences.

Event coordinator Laurel Tokuda (Electrician ’08) – currently the first female department head in history of the School of Skilled Trades – saw the event as a key to the door for young women who wonder about finding a place for themselves in the field.

“[Trades] is not one of the top-of-mind choices for young women,” says Tokuda, who spent roughly a decade as a practising electrician. “There hasn’t been a lot of encouragement over the years and sometimes there is the perception that it’s not necessarily for women – which is absolutely not true.

“It’s for everyone who has an interest in working with their hands, in being creative, and in creative problem solving,” she adds. “[Jill of All Trades] is about trying to make that a viable career option for young women.”

An untapped market

elise murphy and ryley jonker, teacher and student from Boyle School at NAIT's Jill of all Trades event

With women currently making up less than 4% of the most in-demand trades, and with more than 700,000 workers expected to retire by 2028, according to a recent report from RBC, part of the problem for youth is sorting through all the opportunities.

“There are so many different options to choose if I decide to go [into the] trades,” says Ryley Jonker, a Grade 10 student from Boyle School. “I was really intrigued by the various career pathways Jill of All Trades [highlighted], as I hope to take the Registered Apprenticeship Program but didn’t know which trade to explore.”

By the end of the day’s sessions and workshops, Jonker gravitated toward automotive and heavy duty mechanics as possibilities to pursue through the program, which gives high school students a head start on the apprenticeship pathway.

“Being able to see themselves in a trade is huge."

That path is also a head start toward financial independence throughout life, says Amy Sanders, an educational coordinator with Edmonton’s McNally School.

“Being able to see themselves in a trade is huge. The fact that they actually get to build things, get to use the tools – we’re creating confidence and self-esteem and self-awareness that they can do this. Then they can actually career-plan.”

Tokuda knows how important that is for the young women who attended. But she also knows how important it is to the province and country.

“Our workforce is going to require more people,” she says. “And the fact that young women are about half of the young people out there, we want them to consider this as a viable option. This is an untapped market that we can encourage.”

“It’s been a great day”

femal high school students work with copper piping at NAIT's Jill of All Trades event

As Tokuda looks forward to Jill of all Trades recurring annually at NAIT, she hopes the first has opened eyes and broadened perspectives. “I hope there’s a bigger awareness of what their potential careers could be,” she says of attendees.

Jonkers, for one, left with not just a new understanding of the tasks and tools she might encounter, but of the experiences of those who came before her. “I appreciated speaking to the female mentors who shared how they entered the trades and the success they’ve had in their careers,” she says. “It’s been a great day.”

Just as it points a way forward, Jill of All Trades may represent a break with the past.

Sanders points out that she loves education and teaching, but also that the field would once have been seen as appropriate profession for her.

“I was so steered to pink collar,” she recalls. “I was going to be a nurse or a teacher. Even when I was little, the toys that I got were nursing toys or teacher toys. But one of my favourite toys was a Tonka digger. I would go into the garden and dig … and I’d come back covered head to toe in dirt.

“There were certain rules,” Sanders adds. “I think an event like this might have even shifted what I thought I could do.”

group photo in NAIT gym of jill of all trades attendees

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