By Andrew Macklin
June 4, 2015 – Close to 200 female high school students gathered at Conestoga College’s Cambridge campus for the second Jill of all Trades event, providing young women an opportunity to experience the trades.
Conestoga College presented the event in cooperation with the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, School College Work Initiative and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. The event provided 12 trades work stations, where students were given the opportunity to hear from faculty and students about the trade, and get hands-on experience working with the tools of the trade.
“It has been our goal to expose more young women to the trades and engineering,” says Julia Biedermann, executive dean of engineering & IT and trades & apprenticeship programs at Conestoga College.
The school has been a leader in providing apprenticeship programs since it opened its doors in 1967, and currently competes with Hamilton’s Mohawk College for the most apprenticeship opportunities available at any Ontario college. However, in the last 10 years, the school has also introduced training for post-secondary students as well.
Previous to the Jill of all Trades event, Conestoga had been providing Explore Your Future events, giving senior elementary and high school students the opportunity to come to the school for half-day trade programs. But the Jill of all Trades event marks the first exposure day that is specifically for female students.
“We figure that, by doing events like this and allowing young ladies to pick a course in high school that will allow them to at least try the skilled trades, then eventually they might come to post-secondary or they’ll go into an apprenticeship program,” explains Brenda Gilmore, program manager for the school of trades & apprenticeship at Conestoga.
The day began with a keynote speech from Danielle Bryk, the host of Bryk House on HGTV Canada. Bryk spoke about the importance of exposing female students to opportunities to the trades while in elementary and secondary schools, and emphasized the amount of opportunities that lie ahead for girls looking to the trades as a career. However, with so few women currently working in the trades, she recognized that there are few opportunities to tell woman about the options available.
“One of the reasons why there are so few women joining the industry is that there’s a lack of role models,” says Bryk. “Its important to show young women that this is a viable option for them.”
Already, there are signs that Conestoga’s event could be helping in that regard. Gilmore mentioned that one of the student volunteers helping with the event had attended the first Jill of all Trades last year, applied to the school and was accepted, finished a one-year program, and is now working in the trades.