The Women in Trades Training program at Okanagan College is breaking barriers with a foundation metal fabrication program designed to help women build both skills and confidence in this expanding field.
Metal fabricators work on the design side of the industry, which means they require an ability to read drawings and layouts, and then fabricate metal parts to meet those needs. Students learn to work with steel plates and structural steel shapes, including shearing, cutting, punching, drilling, forming, fitting and welding.
The 23-week (690-hour) intake of the metal fabrication program for women starts on March 11, 2013 at the College’s Kelowna campus. Classes run Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
“Metal fabrication is very closely tied to the welding industry, which is consistently the number one trades training choice for women in our programs,” said Nancy Darling, Program Administrator for the Women in Trades program at Okanagan College. “Metal fabrication is one of the trades where demand for skilled workers is particularly strong right now, especially with the recent shipbuilding contracts awarded in the province.”
Darling said scheduling an all-female intake for the metal fabrication class comes at just the right time to take advantage of the revamped entrance requirements. Up until now, students were required to meet the prerequisite of having a Level C ticket in welding prior to entering the metal fabrication foundation program. This new rule allows women to enter directly into the Metal Fabrication foundation program without prior welding experience or credentials.
“Our number one goal with the Women in Trades Training program is to increase the number of female apprentices in the province of B.C.,” Darling said. “By removing the barriers to direct entry into the Metal Fabrication foundation program, we are seeing many women step forward as pioneers in this field. These women will be the first participants we have ever sponsored for this program, and we are excited to see them progress through their training.”
The Women in Trades Training Initiative (WTTI) is administered by the Industry Training Authority (ITA) through the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Agreement (LMA) and provides supports for eligible women who are either: unemployed and not eligible for Employment Insurance benefits, or employed but lacking certification.
Holding a unique all-female class might seem unusual, given that the workforce is filled with men. But Darling said there are good reasons for women to take this route.
“We can provide a higher level of support to a women’s class. Participants gain access to support and encouragement through industry mentors, peer tutoring, essential skills development, resume writing and job search assistance. We have experienced great success with providing this high level of support within our Gateway to the Building Trades for Women program.”
Chelsey Blake can attest to that. The 27-year-old single mother enrolled in the Gateway to the Building Trades for Women program last spring, and is now a student in the College’s Automotive Service Technician program.
Blake admits she was skeptical at first about an all-female class, but then saw how the course design gave women a chance to build a foundation of confidence with their newly acquired skilled.
“It was way better than I ever imagined,” she said. “When you start out, you look around at all the other women and quickly see that we’re all learning together, so it’s less intimidating than being with the guys. It’s also way easier to learn around your peers, because you’re all making the same kinds of mistakes.”
Better yet, she said, with the program completed, they know they’ll be able to hold their own once they head to the “real world.”
“You’ve got the knowledge and the confidence that your skills are as valuable, and valued, as the guys out there,” she said.
Successful completion of the Metal Fabrication foundation program provides students with Level 1 technical training credit from the Industry Training Authority and students also receive credit for 450 work-based hours toward completion of the Metal Fabricator apprenticeship.