Encouraging words for women in trades
Mom didn't want her to be a construction worker but ...

by Nancy Gardiner
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 31/97) - Val Overend dons her hard hat, steel-toed boots and grabs her tool pouch to wear to school.

Val is a carpenter by trade and she visits schools to talk about her trade.

"My mother didn't encourage me to grow up and be a construction worker," explains Overend.

Of course, part of the reason is the socialization of girls in Canada over the years, she says.

But times are changing.

Overend is a Regina trades instructor, journey carpenter and Women in Trades and Technology (WITT) national facilitator. She helps inform the public about what's available in the trades for young girls, from kindergarten to high school.

WITT has identified some of the areas that present barriers to women entering the trades. A lack of technical expertise is chief one of them.

"The girls aren't used to the technical equipment and facilities. In fact, they are intimidated and fearful to use power tools," she says.

"This also equates to a lack of expertise in math and sciences. Mostly advanced math and physics are holding them back."

Girls often drop out of those subjects in high school, and it closes the door to certain opportunities.

Often girls in grades 5 to 7 are affected.

"When the basic laws of machines are being taught -- the beginning of physics -- we start losing girls in the sciences," says Overend. It's a time when girls are making course decisions that will affect their future career choices.

Compounded by socialization, attitudes of girls toward trade occupations and attitudes of society at large, there are many reasons why girls don't enter trades.

Overend's organization sets up role-model programs with schools to break down those barriers.

Educator kits are available, as well as video programs such as "She's Got Her Ticket," which profiles three women with careers in trades and technology. Another video, "She's Making Choices," showcases girls who have already made distinct new choices.

North of Sixty WITT is an education and advocacy organization focusing on training, hiring and retention of women in trades and technology. The Northern WITT group sponsored Overend to come north to help establish opportunities for girls in trades.