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Work program for women only

Jennifer Obleman
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, August 15, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - Less than three per cent of people working in the trades in the NWT are women.

If a group of government, industry and education partners have their way, it's about to become a lot more co-ed.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Lorraine Phaneuf, programs and research manager for the NWT Status of Women Council, helps Valerie Kimiksana fill out an application form at an information session for the Northern Women in Mining, Oil and Gas project Monday. - Jennifer Obleman/NNSL photo

The Northern Women in Mining, Oil and Gas project (NWMOG), a research-based pilot project led by the Status of Women Council of the NWT, is working to equip women to swing hammers, drive heavy equipment and take on other tasks traditionally done by men.

The method is through women-only classes and services to beat barriers to education and employment.

"The purpose of this project is to empower women and to decrease the barriers that keep women from entering the trades," said Lorraine Phaneuf, programs and research manager for the Status of Women Council.

NWMOG will use a detailed assessment process to select 10 participants for a women-only Building Trades Helper Program at Aurora College this fall, and 10 more this winter. The program includes safety courses and an introduction to carpentry, mechanics, and electrical systems.

A Trades Access course running February to August will prepare women for the Trades Entrance exams.

NWMOG will assist women in upgrading courses or dealing with other barriers prior to entering the Building Trades Helper Program or Trades Access program.

Financial assistance and other services, such as referrals to housing, childcare or counselling, will be available to NWMOG participants dealing with barriers like family responsibilities, limited financial resources, and social problems such as physical and sexual abuse or addiction.

The research question the project will answer is whether a dedicated women-only, partnership-based, strategic approach to trades training will increase the interest, participation and retention of women in trades.

If you ask Barb Curtis with the Aurora College Building Trades Helper Program, the answer to that question will be yes.

"One of the positive aspects of this program is that it is for women only. We've found in the past women are not comfortable working in a trades environment when men are in the classroom. We want to remove that barrier," said Curtis.

Trades certification can empower women in tough situations by building confidence and providing the financial resources to make positive changes, she noted, adding women in trades is good for industry, too.

"We've heard from employers that women are fabulous. We take good care of equipment. We pay attention to detail. We push the men harder. Women in trades needs to grow," said Curtis.

"We don't want to be out there earning $13 an hour. We want to be major wage earners."

Valerie Kimiksana is interested in pursuing a career in the trades.

"I'm unemployed. The career I had was housekeeping. It never went past $12 an hour. I hurt my back a couple times, and I thought, 'For the amount I'm getting paid, this isn't worth it,'" she said.

"I want to be an automotive technician. I've had this dream since I was 10-years-old, but I was afraid I'd get laughed at."

Sandy Craig is interested in pursuing a career in carpentry.

"I like working with my hands. I like the detail, the woodwork, the finishing. I've always had an interest in creating things," she said.

Both women attended a NWMOG information session Monday and plan to take part in the two-and-a-half day assessment process later this month.