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More Women Joining the Construction Industry

Woman wearing construction PPE
Woman wearing construction PPE

The construction industry is one of Canada’s largest employers, employing 1 in 13 working-age individuals and over 1.4 million Canadians. Despite employing such a large percentage of Canada’s overall workforce, women remain dramatically under-represented in the industry, accounting for only 12% of the total workforce. Nearly 75% of the women tend to work in off-site occupations such as business administration, management, and sales. It is estimated that women now make up 40% of the total construction off-site workforce.

The gender imbalance is most pronounced in on-site occupations and skilled trades professions. Fewer than 4% of women choose careers in these occupations, though there are some regional variations. The Western provinces have been most successful in recruiting women into the industry, with women now accounting for 15% of all construction employees in Alberta, of which about 30% are in on-site construction occupations. Women in Saskatchewan also tend to be more inclined to work in on-site construction, as nearly 40% of women in the province’s industry are employed in these occupations. Across the rest of Canada, however, female participation in the trades remains stubbornly low, despite ongoing industry and recent government efforts to promote careers in the trades to women.

The low participation of women in construction trades is evident from the educational preferences of women in Canada. In 2011, women were half as likely to have a trade or apprenticeship certificate as their male counterparts, opting in greater numbers to pursue a college or university degree instead.

Those women who are choosing to study construction-related occupations are mostly choosing electrician, welder, and interior finishing as their career choice. Over half (55%) of all women in 2015 who completed an apprenticeship in a construction-related occupation were enrolled in these three trades.

Historical trends suggest that expansionary periods in construction, marked by rising wages and positive job prospects, tend to attract women into the industry. Over the next decade, Canada’s construction industry is expected to grow at a more moderate pace, which may undermine the recent gains made by the industry to increase female representation in the skilled trades.

If current trends hold, an estimated two thirds of women who choose to enter the construction industry over the coming decade will pursue off-site career paths, which include occupations related to office support and engineering, while the remaining one third are expected to go into trades directly related to construction projects.

Bill Ferreira is the Vice President fo the Government Relations and Public Affairs, Canadian Construction Association.

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