November 16, 2023

Building for Tomorrow: A Diverse and Dynamic Future in Trades

First published in November 2023, and authored by Dina McNeil, Director of Projects and Programs, Colleges and Institutes Canada 

Canada’s rich diversity is unmistakable. Yet, as the country faces an urgent need for more tradespeople, there’s a noticeable lack of representation in the skilled trades. Career opportunities in construction and manufacturing—rewarding occupations with good pay—exist across the country. Colleges and institutes are playing a pivotal role in addressing this shortage and reshaping the landscape by creating programs and partnering with industries to pave the way for a more inclusive future in the trades.  

Central to this endeavor is our commitment to outreach events aimed at making the trades an inviting space for everyone. Our Explore Trades and Technology program is a testament to this, where colleges and industry leaders provide high school students with a comprehensive view of the trades, challenging traditional stereotypes. These hands-on events inspire the next generation to see the skilled trades as more than just jobs, but ambitious and fulfilling career choices, accessible to all. 

We’ve made remarkable progress in creating opportunities for women in the trades over recent years. Initiatives like Conestoga College’s Engineering, Technology, and Trades for Women convey to women that the trades are not only open but welcoming. Dynamic recruitment campaigns further this narrative, depicting a career in the trades as compelling and rewarding—a message that is finding resonance with an increasing number of female learners.  

Knowing that recruiting a diverse pool of workers is just the beginning, we emphasize the importance of supporting these learners, ensuring their sustained success in the trades. Saskatchewan Polytech’s Women in Trades and Technology initiative embodies this approach, positioning mentorship at its core. By connecting students with experienced professionals, we’re fostering an environment where guidance, support, and a sense of belonging are paramount. 

Pre-apprenticeship programs tailored for underrepresented groups is another way we’re supporting a more diverse skilled trades sector. For instance, Lethbridge College’s Pathways to the Trades program prepares newcomers for the Alberta Apprenticeship entry exam while enhancing their integration into Canadian workplace culture. Participants discover a range of trades and visit job sites, build job search strategies and professional networks, and improve their trade-specific English language skills. 

Programs like these serve as catalysts for change in the trades. By providing these opportunities, there’s a cyclical impact: the more women, newcomers, Indigenous people, visible minorities, and 2SLGBTQI+ people we usher into the trades, the more it’s seen as a suitable sector for them.  

We’re also helping the construction and manufacturing sectors create positive and inclusive work environments through our new ApprenticeConnect platform. Developed in partnership with seven colleges and institutes across Canada, this platform provides tailored tools and resources such as inclusive hiring strategies, tips on fostering a supportive workplace culture, and access to diversity and inclusion training. Our aim is to ensure these businesses have the necessary tools to not only recruit but also retain and elevate a diverse workforce.  

Having equipped businesses with the tools to foster inclusivity, it’s equally essential to provide tangible incentives that drive diverse hiring decisions. Our Career Launcher Apprenticeships program, funded by the Government of Canada, rewards employers who champion diversity in their hiring practices. Employers double their incentive, from $5,000 to $10,000, when they hire a new apprentice from an underrepresented group. Impressively, more than half of new apprentices hired through the program belong to one of these groups, highlighting its tangible impact.  

At colleges and institutes, we’re not just educators; we’re change-makers. Every new program we create, recruitment drive we conduct, student we enrol, and mentorship initiative we introduce edges us closer to our vision: a trades sector mirroring Canada’s diverse population. But there’s still a lot of work to be done and achieving this vision requires collective action. We urge businesses, educators, policymakers, and the general public to join us in this transformative journey. Support these initiatives, invest in the future of trades, and together, let’s build a more inclusive and prosperous future.