Though Women Building Futures (WBF) is celebrating 25 years of ensuring women can start new careers in the trades or transportation industry, it says much more work is needed in the years ahead. 

Nearly 3,000 women have benefited from the programs and mentorship of WBF that offers free training and support to women who are unemployed or underemployed.

“We spent 25 years getting women ready for the trades, and now we need to put as much effort into helping getting the trades ready for women,” said Carol Moen, WBF president and CEO.

She said what is now being done at WBF is similar to what was done with safety 25 to 30 years ago, where women were balked at or made fun of.

Moen says the same workplace culture transition needs to occur in the trades. 

“We break down barriers between women and their economic security, and those barriers can look like many different things it could be academic readiness, their personal situation, or navigating childcare while in the program,” said Moen.

Many trades face labour gaps and WBF supports women for those roles while ensuring a livable wage. 

WBF began offering its programming in Grande Prairie in 2020 with the trades exploration program, Journey to Trades, and has since expanded its offering with its Construction Bootcamp. Moen said WBF has partnered with Northwestern Polytechnic to run the programs.

Kimberly Bennett graduated from a WBF driver operator program in Grande Prairie in 2021, where she received her class 3 licence.

Her husband bought a paper-shredding business, and then shortly after was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she decided to get the training needed to run the business. 

“I actually Googled ‘how do women learn how to drive trucks,’ and I found WBF online, and the idea of doing a program that’s generally in a male-dominated industry, with other women felt a lot less scary and intimidating,” said Bennett.

While taking the program, she said the women helped build each other up and created a camaraderie. 

She said her husband is still unable to work, but she can now support her family through his illness. 

“Taking that program set me up for financial freedom for the rest of my life,” she said.

Previously, she had worked as a hairdresser and a restaurant server.

“If I had known how awesome truck driving was, I would have done it a long time ago.”

The work of WBF doesn’t stop after graduation for its grads.

“We have to make sure, as we’re working hard to introduce more women to the trades, that the trades are a place where they’re going to be successful,” said Moen. 

“When you graduate, they don’t just set you free and say good luck to you; they actually help you along the way,” said Bennett. 

“We have advisors that are available for all of our graduates in perpetuity,” said Moen.

“When a woman is having a challenging situation, perhaps she needs some coaching or advice, we’ll work with her to provide her with the knowledge and strength to navigate that on her own.”

Working with businesses is also how WBF is helping shape the future of trades for women, which is why WBF partners with companies that also want to see that change in the industry. 

Bennett said she is happy to know that support is there to know which businesses support women in the trades. 

“The employers that are partnering with us want to help influence that positive work culture,” said Moen.

The work of WBF began 25 years ago when four social workers began working with a group of single mothers who were living in poverty, said Moen. 

“They wanted to help connect those women to economic security through having sustainable careers that they could support themselves on and ultimately support their children on.”

WBF has 533 participants in its coaching and readiness services and 188 graduates in the last year. 

According to WBF, 87 per cent of its graduates work in fields related to their training within six months of graduating. It also says 38 per cent of graduates were previously unemployed, and 35 per cent had dependents or children.

By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 21, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Town & Country News   Beaverlodge, Alberta

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