Aboriginal women ready for trades jobs

Tyler Clarke
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Literally building a foundation has helped a group of students build a foundation of skills and knowledge in the trades.


On Wednesday, a dozen Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology students pried wood supports away from a concrete foundation they spent the last week building.

“They learned concrete forming and placing, which for a pre-trades opportunity is a good opportunity,” trades instructor Dave Gesner summarized while watching students at the work site.

The dozen students are all part of the institute’s 12-week Women in Trades program, which prepares young aboriginal women for job placements in various trades.

On Friday, all 12 students are expected to graduate, including Erin Ermine, who after 11 years working as an office assistant decided that now was the time for a change of scenery.

“I worked behind a desk but I always wanted to do trades,” she said. “I found out the opportunity that SIIT was giving with the Women in Trades program, and I took that opportunity and I love it. “

It was the hands-on experience and the chance to “do something challenging and doing something to show yourself as a woman in the male-dominated trades” that she said attracted her to pursuing the trades.

“I want to work along males because I have that confidence in me that I can do that.”

In addition to serving as the program’s assistant, Sarah Lewis is in fourth year carpentry.

As an aboriginal woman, she anticipates that her students will face some barriers in the trades.

“All odd are against them, being women, being First Nation and being in a male-dominated trade,” she said.

With Saskatoon boasting a bigger economic boom at the moment than Prince Albert, she said that some of her students are poised to talk with a lot of employers.

Reflecting on the 12 aboriginal women who made up the program’s batch of students, Gesner notes that they were chosen from about 70 applicants.

I want to work along males because I have that confidence in me that I can do that. Erin Ermine

“There’s an interest for sure, because women need to have better-paying positions,” he said.

“They can provide for their families and be independent,” Lewis added.

Although aboriginal women in specific are underrepresented in the trades, Gesner concluded that “It’s certainly not due to a lack of their ability.”

Keen on pursing scaffolding and earning a journeyperson ticket, Ermine said that her peers’ key takeaway from the program has been a sense of confidence in the trades.

“A lot of these women who came here were skittish and shy and didn’t know how to properly use tools,” she said. “I was afraid to use the saw, and now I’m able to use them with confidence.

“I encourage women and young people in general,” she added. “A lot of young people go through high school and don’t know what to do, so I encourage them to get into construction careers and speak to their job coaches.

“Test your limits, try it out and you might actually like it.”

Set to graduate on Friday with a handful of credentials that make them job-ready for various trades positions, students will be seeking job placements in the near future.

In addition to building a foundation, students constructed sheds and various other hands-on work projects over the past 12 weeks, Gesner noted.

The Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology subsidizes wages to employers for the first two weeks, Lewis said, insistent that the latest batch of keen students be awarded the opportunity to prove themselves.

Wednesday’s foundation went up at the Habitat for Humanity Prince Albert ReStore site, with the building to house the organization’s offices when completed later this year. 

Organizations: Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology, Prince Albert, Habitat for Humanity Prince Albert ReStore

Geographic location: Saskatoon

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