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Windsor, ON’s St. Clair College empowers women to explore new career paths through fully-funded skilled trades program.

If a year ago, someone had painted a future picture of Kourtney Belisle’s life, there was no way it would have included lathes, drills, or welding torches. The 29-year-old owned her own fitness studio in Northern Ontario and was quite happy being her own boss. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Belisle was forced to pivot. “The industry was no longer feasible for me as a single parent, so I decided I was going to look for a new opportunity,” she says.

Uncertainty leads to new opportunity

Belisle found an online advertisement for the Women in Skilled Trades program through the Windsor-based group Women’s Enterprise Skills Training (WEST). Funded by the Ontario government with support from the Canadian Women’s Foundation, the program includes free tuition, pre-apprenticeship training at St. Clair College’s Windsor campus, and paid work placements.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that sounds like a really good opportunity,’” says Belisle. “In the trades, you can go to school and work at the same time, earning a living. It’s nice to know that you can make money while you’re educating yourself.”

Participants complete the Level 1 Industrial Mechanic Millwright Apprenticeship in-school curriculum, 70 hours of hands-on CNC Practical Skills with General Machinist concepts, and an eight-week industry work placement. They’re also exposed to eight different trades. “Some participants might find a passion in one of those eight trades, and we then work with them to find a job placement,” says Rose Anguiano Hurst, WEST’s Executive Director.

St. Clair College President, Patti France, says the program, which is in its seventh year, is designed to meet labour market shortages in the skilled trades while empowering women to take control of their future careers. “This program allows women to explore a career path they may have never considered,” France says.

For Belisle, the program means economic security for her and her daughter. “I have a four-year-old. I want to be a role model to her and show her that hard times makes strong people and that you can do anything,” she says.

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