Women in Trades Warmly Welcomed at VSL

There was a palpable buzz at Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyards as 16 eager trainees descended upon the shipyard as part of their marine trades skills foundation program. The trainees, ranging in age from 20 to 55, are all part of Camosun College’s Women in Trades Training Initiative, funded by the Industry Training Authority through the Canada-BC Job Fund, and recently expanded with help from Seaspan.

Students in Camosun’s Trades Skills Foundation Program – Marine visit Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyards

Students in Camosun’s Trades Skills Foundation Program – Marine visit Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyards

The 12-week Trades Skills Foundation Program – Marine is, as its name suggests, designed to give participants an overview of marine-related trades, through in-class work and hands-on experience. Students visit each of Camosun’s trade shops and go out into the field for onsite learning. Students, who may have had very little prior exposure to the trades, will be able to explore different options. Upon graduation from the Foundation Program, trainees are ready for positions as entry level trade helpers and skilled labourers in the industry or for bridging to other programs.

Sarah-Jayne Roe, Women in Trades Coordinator, and Karen McNeill, Trades Career, Recruitment and Retention, of Camosun College are proud of the program. “It’s designed to give our students a window on a career, on a future, that they may never have considered” says Sarah-Jayne. Karen adds that the new initiative, modelled on the successful Women in Trades Training for the construction industry, “makes sense in B.C.’s coastal environment, with local employers like B.C. Ferries, the [Canadian] Coast Guard, and with the renewal that we’re seeing in the shipbuilding sector.”

“We depend on local employers to help with the experiential part, and Seaspan has stepped up – in a bunch of ways, actually. They have been sponsoring us all along, with donations to fund growth, training and retention of women in the trades – they even provided us with an actual hull to work on at the college,” Sarah Jayne adds, with a delighted smile.  “When I approached them about hosting students onsite for a day or two, they offered up a full week of onsite training!”

Camosun students are introduced to trades in a hands-on learning environment at Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyards

Camosun students are introduced to trades in a hands-on learning environment at Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyards

During their week at Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyards, the students get a full safety orientation and go through all the different trades at the yard, including electrical, sheet metal/metal fabrication, carpentry, pipe trades, heavy mechanical, and welding. “It’s a pretty big commitment on the part of an employer,” adds Sarah-Jayne. “It involves a ton of behind the scenes prep, time and energy.”

The 16 women in the program are a diverse group in terms of age, background, education and work experience.

Carley Webster, age 20, is just back from a year backpacking in Australia after graduating from high school. While there, she bartended at a mining camp. “It struck me that instead of pouring the drinks, I’d rather be in a trade as well,” she grins. “When I got home, I heard about this program from a friend of mine. I’m so glad I got in!” Carley came into the program with an interest in heavy-duty mechanics but after just a week and a half in the program, and a few days at Victoria Shipyards, she exclaims “I’m learning about trades that I didn’t even know existed!  Now I’m thinking that I’ll get certified in heavy-duty mechanics and then as a machinist. Who knows though,” she adds with a laugh, “by the end I may have changed my mind again.”

Lyndsey Tremblay, age 34, is a mom who has been working part-time in the food service industry. She wants to be in a better position to provide her son with the best possible life. “I’m going to do pipe fitting and get my gas tickets so I can be a gas fitter. My goal is to get my Red Seal.”  Lyndsey says that her time at Victoria Shipyards has been amazing. Aeden, age 7, loves to see the photos that his mom is bringing home. “Everyone is so friendly and generous with their time. I hope that I get to work for them someday,” she confides.

From L-R: Lyndsey, Erika and Carley, Students at Camosun College, in the Trades Skills Foundation Program – Marine

From L-R: Lyndsey, Erika and Carley, Students at Camosun College, in the Trades Skills Foundation Program – Marine

Erika Scherschel, age 25, grew up in a family where everyone goes to university and gets a white-collar job. She was on the same path three years ago, already a year into her studies as a dental hygienist, when her efforts were halted by a bad car accident. It left her with a neurological cognitive disorder that affected her ability to do the memory work involved with her chosen course. But Erika is stubborn (“’strong-willed’ according to my kind parents,” she laughs), and, after discovering that hands-on learning relies upon a different part of the brain, she decided to explore the trades through the Camosun program. “I just got to try welding at Seaspan this week. Well! The heavens opened up and the angels started singing!” she explains with characteristic liveliness. “It came so naturally to me! People were joking around saying ‘So, can you start Monday?’”

They are confident in their ability to overcome any obstacles. “If you work hard and you have a good attitude, the sky’s the limit,” says Lyndsey. “If I come across someone old school, who doesn’t think women belong on the job, I’ll just work harder than him and be his boss someday,” laughs Carley. “Change is uncomfortable,” adds Erika. “Bringing women in means opening yourself to new ideas and new ways of doing things. But as we prove ourselves through our hard work, I think the people we work with and for will come to see that those different viewpoints and approaches as an advantage.”

Sarah-Jayne and Karen are proud of these three and of all the students in the program. They know that these women will be part of changing the face of the trades in Canada.