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“Don’t be on mute,” says CCA president at Women In Construction Virtual Event


March 11, 2021
By Jay Koblun

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Van Buren, CCAMary Van Buren, president of the Canadian Construction Association. Photo: Canadian Construction Association

Make sure you are not on mute; is a phrase the construction industry has heard again and again throughout the pandemic. Mary Van Buren said as the keynote speaker for Rock to Road’s Women In Construction Virtual Event that it is important to do the same when it comes to advocating for women and underrepresented groups in Canadian Construction.

“The biggest challenge for each of us is to step up. That means setting aside time to achieve your golden seal, mentoring a colleague, acting on unacceptable behaviour, putting your name forward for a promotion. Make sure you are not on mute,” Van Buren told the more than 300 event attendees on International Women’s Day on March 8.

Van Buren is the president of the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) and discussed the importance of inspiring the next generation of workers to join the multi-faceted field of construction. She presented what needs to happen to foster an inclusive construction industry and initiatives CCA has spearheaded to actively champion diversity.

“Today is March 8, International Women’s Day. It’s an important day to raise awareness for gender equality, break down barriers and celebrate woman and girl’s accomplishments worldwide. One of the best aspects of my role as president of the Canadian Construction Association is to talk about the value of our industry and to meet with so many passionate and dynamic colleagues across Canada,” she said.

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“Your decision to show up today and take advantage of online and virtual learning and networking, reinforces your adaptability to this new world and dedication to your professing. This adaptability will help you in all aspects of your life.”

In 2019, only 192 thousand of the 1.5 million Canadians employed in construction were women. Indigenous people make up about five per cent of the construction labour force. “It’s clear there is more work to be done to increase representation of these and other represented groups in construction,” Van Buren commented.

She continued to say with an economy devasted by COVID-19, and a significant infrastructure deficit, from aging assets that were built over 50 years ago, the industry has an unprecedented opportunity to shape the country’s communities of the future.

“With a looming workforce shortage and the government investing in infrastructure as a form of economic stimulus to position Canada for global growth, we have an unprecedented opportunity to attract those from underrepresented segments into our industry.

“This is truly a one in a generation opportunity to bring in more woman of all walks of life. Black, Indigenous, new Canadians, LGBTQ+, the need for workers is strong. And Canada needs a larger supply of qualified, skilled people to fill these roles.”

Van Buren said investing in infrastructure and programs to address these labour shortages will provide a viable and inclusive employment sector for Canadians. While also attracting a diverse and skilled workforce.

“Investing in infrastructure is not a bailout for our industry, it is an investment that returns three to one for Canadians, delivering lasting benefits for generations.”

Barriers to construction

Construction offers well-paying jobs where you see the direct connection of your work to the community. Clean water, recreation centres, safe roads, schools, hospitals, you can play a role in the creating of Canada and the digitization of the industry. Van Buren asked, “Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?” adding that while many other industries had to be put on hold, the Canadian construction industry demonstrated that we can work safely during the worst health crisis since the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918.

“The Canadian Construction Association, our 63 partner associations and 20,000-member firms came together to share best practices, deliver free webinars, and produce a national protocol for COVID-19. Unfortunately, we have seen women, in particular, have been the hardest hit by COVID-19 related job losses due in part to their concentration in the service sector,” said Van Buren. “As we reset our economy, we are resetting the culture of the industry.”

The CCA said it is very aware of the many barriers women face to participation. In rural areas, especially the North, it can be hard to get a driver’s licence or access training.

“Our 20,000-member firms rely on the educational system to prepare kids for the construction industry. Certainly, one barrier we are trying to overcome is that university is the only way to success,” said the CCA’s president.

“Unfortunately, kids have limited opportunities to try out the trades in high school, which can lead to a life-long, fulfilling and well-paid career. There is even more pressure against girls to consider the construction-related trades as a career. According to a report by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, most women in the trades are employed in the service sector. Not in the male-dominated manufacturing and construction trades, especially those governed by the Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program.”

Red Seal tradespeople have been trained to the same standards across the country allowing them to move more easily between provinces. In fact, women’s representation in trades is less than five per cent. The numbers are even smaller when it comes to women of colour.

“This same report says that nearly half of Red Seal trades have no visible minority women. And the other half only between one and 12 per cent,” said Van Buren.

“To hire a more diverse workforce, we need to see more women and those from underrepresented segments, entering construction-related trades programs as well as STEM Fields of study. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

“According to Engineers Canada, women make up only 22 per cent of engineering undergrads and they cluster such areas as biosystems and bioengineering. In mechanical, software and computer engineering. Women only make up about 14 per cent of students and just 13 per cent of licensed engineers in Canada are women.”

Van Buren said to make matters worse, U.S. numbers would suggest that 40 per cent of women who graduate with engineering degrees either never enter the profession or eventually leave it.

“Our industry is in competition with many others, for this very small pool of talent. And we often come out on the short end. That is why we need to focus on encouraging more women and underrepresented groups to obtain these degrees, to obtain these apprenticeships so that we have a greater pool to hire from. The workplace must evolve to be inclusive so we retain the talent of people like yourselves.”

Benefits of diversity and inclusion in construction

The benefits of a diverse and inclusive work culture are many. It can accelerate innovation with diverse perspectives and new ideas. Diverse teams are more equipped to foster innovations, and innovation leads to better results. In can increase employee productivity, reduce turnover, and drive a positive safety culture. Van Buren said it can also enhance your company’s reputation and expand your customer base.

“Having a diverse set of employees helps business understand and meet their customers’ needs. All of this drives a positive bottom-line impact to profit and productivity.”

Van Buren said the industry is taking many positive steps and spoke a bit about a campaign the CCA launched called, “Talent Fits Here.” She said its aim is to celebrate the diversity of the people in the industry. It has had more than 30 million social impressions and the video has received 22 million views.

She invited viewers to learn more about the initiative at www.talentfitshere.ca and share stories that resonate with you.

Van Buren added that the Canadian construction industry is rich with opportunity and is a fit for creative thinkers, innovative minds and people who want to leave a lasting mark on the world.

“Together we can reach more Canadians to demonstrate the breadth of opportunity available within construction, place more apprentices, and absorb some of the talent from harder hit sectors. Who many have found themselves unemployed because of covid-19. Be an ally to other women, and to those from underrepresented groups. Volunteer your time to go to schools and speak about your experiences.”

“Be the role model you were looking for when you entered construction.”

Van Buren concluded the keynote address by saying we cannot take the industry for granted. Nor assume that the level of investment necessary to a strong Canada will continue. The CCA is advocating consistently for flowing the already committed federal infrastructure funds where they need to be delivered.

Did you miss or forget to register for Rock to Road’s Women In Construction Virtual Event? All of the sessions and keynote presentation are available On Demand here: rocktoroad.com/virtual-events/women-in-construction

Visit, www.women-in-construction.ca to join the conversation, access news, features, and more content focused on celebrating women in construction.