Greater Victoria School District substantially increases number of young women in trades training

Many female students are getting a head start on their skilled trades career thanks to the efforts of the Greater Victoria School District.

Rachel Jang (shown above left) graduated from Victoria High School in June and is already on her way to becoming a Red Seal electrician. 

In grade nine, she took a trades exploration class which led her to the school’s electrical program in grade 10 and then the Industry Training Authority (ITA) Youth Train in Trades program in Grade 11. Through the ITA program, she achieved her Level 1 of technical training by the end of Grade 11. 

“The electrical program provided me with practical knowledge, so I was ahead of the game with electrical theories and hands-on work,” says Rachel. “Learning the process of circuits fascinated me, and I loved the feeling of achievement. I was excited to learn more about electrical each year.”

Rachel got a head start on her trades career because of the effort that the Greater Victoria School District No. 61 makes to promote the skilled trades. The district has trades exploration programs for middle and high school students as well as programs in more than a dozen trades across eight high schools, in partnership with post-secondary institutions.

“Our district values trades careers for both the viable pathway that contributes to our local and provincial economy and for the sense of accomplishment students get when being creative,” says Lindsay Johnson, Vice Principal of Pathways & Partnerships Career Education programs at SD61. “From our board of trustees and senior leadership to teachers, counsellors, and career educators, and all those in between, we all truly believe in the power of connecting students to their passions and pathways, especially those where a person works with their head and their hands to create something.”  

Improving student experience

To provide students with the most engaging, rewarding, and safest trades learning experiences possible, the district recently made improvements to metal, woodworking, and auto shops with $843,624 in funding received over three years through the ITA Youth Trades Capital Equipment Program. ITA distributed a total of $15 million across 59 school districts over three years to upgrade trades classrooms and shops. The funding enabled SD61 to replace old, worn tools with modern equipment that improves safety and ensures students learn on the most up-to-date technology. The district also installed new ventilation systems.

With these improvements, the school district has seen an increase in students participating in its trades programs, especially female students. This past school year, 22 percent of high school students in the trades exploration program were female; in previous years, there weren’t any female students. Other programs saw increases as well:

  • 13 percent of students in AutoTech were female (up from six percent)
  • 15 percent in ITA Youth Work in Trades (up from 11 percent)
  • 38 percent in Aviation (up from 20 percent)

“This is great news, because it’s 2020,” says Rachel. “We should not be living in the 1950s where there were gender roles. An increase in gender diversity is important.”

“The Greater Victoria School District is proud to have created an environment where females, or those who identify as female, feel comfortable and empowered to pursue a trades pathway,” says Lindsay. “The increased knowledge of what our school district is able to offer has led to more young women taking advantage and pursuing a career in the trades.”

Breaking stereotypes

Beginning in kindergarten, the district aims to break gender stereotypes around females pursing the trades through events, hands-on trades activities, visits to community trades sites, participation in exploration events at Camosun College, and competing in SkillsBC events, among other opportunities. 

“But perhaps most important are the trades teachers whom the female students encounter along their journeys,” continues Lindsay. “They create environments that are welcoming, inclusive, and encouraging. Once a female student shows an aptitude and interest, the teachers prepare them to enter a trades pathway by providing knowledge and support and pairing them with industry partners who also  creating welcoming environments.”

“Combating the stereotypes and discrimination that keep women from the trades takes a commitment not just from individuals, but from our organizations and institutions,” says Lisa Langevin, Director of Women in Trades at ITA. “SD61 is paving the road to show the tremendous difference that kind of institutional commitment can make. The district should be proud of the strides they’ve made.”

A diverse pathway

“We teach our students and their parents that pursuing a pathway in the trades may be a forever career, and that it may also lead to business and entrepreneurship opportunities or networking and branching off into another related field. At the very least, they’ll have a skill they will never lose,” says Lindsay. 

Rachel—whose ultimate goal is to be an electrician in the Canadian Navy with a Red Seal ticket—agrees that there’s many possibilities. 

“I became interested in the Navy when they visited our school for future job opportunities,” says Rachel. “High school is a free pass to try out a number of various courses, including the trades program. Even if you’re not committed to this job for the next 50 years, you won’t regret taking the opportunity. Take the chance. You never know until you try.”

“We have seen pathways in the trades change students’ lives,” says Lindsay. “The trades provides purpose and an optimistic future, as students plan to enter a career pathway they are proud of and excited about. We are extremely proud of the students, post-secondary schools, industry partners, and educators who together make this happen.”

Learn more about Greater Victoria School District’s trades programs at careers.sd61.bc.ca and follow them on Twitter @SD61Careers.

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