Overcoming the barriers women face in entering the skilled trades

This op-ed was initially published in the Toronto Star on April 1, 2021.


The pandemic exposed the fact that women hold a disproportionate share of low-paying jobs while carrying the brunt of family responsibilities.

One area of policy focus should be providing Canadians, especially women, with opportunities and access to more sustainable, higher-quality jobs. But where will those jobs come from?

They are here already. Employment in the skilled trades has fared comparatively well during the pandemic and have rebounded above pre-pandemic levels. Yet all too often we hear that the talent isn’t there to fill the jobs.

Research by the Labour Market Information Council and the Education Policy Research Initiative demonstrates how skilled trades can be an attractive career path for many. In the first year following trade certification, the average annual earnings of Red Seal certificate holders (who meet common national standards) is $64,000, climbing to nearly $74,000 eight years after certification.

Yet the report also acknowledges very few women enter the trades to begin with (less than 10 per cent of Red Seal-certified journeypersons) and those that do, are largely concentrated (more than 80 per cent) in low-earning trades such as hairstylists, cooks and bakers. As a result, in the first year following certification, women earn on average $31,500 — 47 per cent of what men earn, which persists over time.

So, how can we expand opportunities for a greater number of women to enter the skilled trades? Especially within the higher-earning sectors such as mechanical, electrical and construction trades, where the barriers to entry — the type of work environment, perceptions of low earnings and gender discrimination — are very real.

We must ensure the skilled trades programs respond to the unique needs and challenges of Canadians. The pandemic has spurred innovation in this space and forever altered the way we train and educate. This point is particularly relevant for women who face systemic hurdles to access training and high-paying jobs in skilled trades.

Today we can, for example, deliver training for skilled trades through the use of high-tech simulators and offer women greater flexibility through innovative blended learning that combine both face-to-face and online environments. But women will also need supports throughout their career journey such as affordable child care, accessible transportation and paid sick days. All the while tackling gender discrimination in the workplace. A comprehensive and collective mindset will be needed to attract and retain women in the skilled trades and beyond.


Denise Amyot, President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada

Steven Tobin, Executive Director, LMIC

Ross Finnie, Professor, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa, and Director, EPRI