By Dani Wearden | Photography submitted
Did you know? Women’s representation in Alberta’s trades grew 43.8% between 2009 and 2019. Despite this massive growth, women still account for only 8.7% of Alberta’s total trades employees.
In 2021, Alberta’s Ministry of Labour and Immigration published a report called Alberta Labour Force Profiles: Women. According to the report, women in Alberta have the highest workforce participation rate in Canada at 65.7% and have the highest average hourly wage at $28.56.
Despite these wins, and despite major growth in representation, Albertan women who work in the trades are more outnumbered by men than in any other type of occupation.
In 2019, approximately 92,400 women earned a trade certificate, compared to 116,900 in 2009.
Certification is something Joanne Campbell, 38, a local electrician from Peace River, wishes more women would pursue.
“I always tell women interested in the trades to get their ticket because it guarantees them a higher wage,” said Campbell. “It’s worth the time in the long run, and honestly, it goes by quickly.”
Campbell began her career in the trades at the age of 21 because she knew she wanted a more fulfilling job. She saw a display about becoming an electrician that sparked her curiosity, so she started looking into the potential career path.
“I wanted to work at a job where I could have vacation time and benefits. I wanted more for myself,” said Campbell. “I ended up passing the entrance exam, so I applied at Kenry Electric. They had me using a power tool on the first day. The rest is history.”
Campbell completed her Journeyman Electrician ticket at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary. Despite having no prior experience, she found she loved her time there.
“The closest thing I had done before pursuing my ticket was changing a lightbulb, but I was excited to learn, and I really leaned into my apprenticeship years. I ended up enjoying every second of it,” said Campbell.
After becoming an electrician, Campbell spent four years in Saskatchewan where she did a variety of electrical work in commercial stores as well as cathodic protection on pipelines, which is an effective method for preventing corrosion on metal surfaces.
Campbell also tried her hand in the oilfield before coming back to Peace River and taking on a role as an electrician at Kenry once again.
A typical workday for Campbell is one that doesn’t follow a routine. Responding to service calls each day, Campbell finds there is always something new for her to experience.
“I do everything from fixing lights and machinery to troubleshooting and restoring power to equipment, houses and outbuildings. There’s never a set location, and I’m generally in a different environment each day,” said Campbell. “This type of atmosphere has allowed me to learn so many different things within my trade.”
Although she loves her job, Campbell does admit she has faced some challenges with her chosen career path, specifically because she is a woman in a male-dominated industry.
“The perception of being a woman in the trades can be tough. At the beginning of my career, I noticed there was a lot of doubt projected toward me because I’m a woman and because I’m only 5’1” tall,” said Campbell. “I’ve learned to work smarter, ask for help when I need it and simply ignore those who don’t think I can do my job. I’m qualified, and I know I’m capable of providing great quality work.”
Overall, Campbell is very happy with her decision to join the trades, and she finds a great deal of satisfaction in her work.
“I love the variety and getting to use my brain each day. It’s so satisfying to fix electrical problems and figure out the why for each project. It’s fun and engaging,” said Campbell.
Campbell has advice for women who are thinking of a career in the trades.
“Do it! Just take the leap. If you’re determined, you can accomplish anything. There’s always going to be naysayers. Just ignore them, and go after whatever you want,” said Campbell.
A plasterer, stucco applicator and stone mason who resides in Northern Sunrise County, Louise Cote also knows first-hand that women can have a rewarding career in the trades.
“I always say the same thing to women going into the trades or considering it, which is yes, yes, yes,” said Cote. “There are all kinds of careers in the trades that may pique your interests. I always tell women to not be afraid when it comes to pursuing a new career. Life’s too short to be afraid.”
Cote has 36 years in the stucco trade as well as 25 years as a stone mason under her belt. Originally, her husband ran a stucco business, and she oversaw the bookkeeping and supply orders.
After witnessing the stucco process, she found she was interested in it, so she applied herself.
“I didn’t know if I had the talent, but I had the aptitude. My husband was instrumental in training me, and with four kids, I found it a necessity to start,” said Cote.
Cote’s training as a stone mason soon followed. She shadowed other experts in the industry and learned by doing.
“I saw my stepson complete some stone mason work, and I immediately wanted to learn how to do it. My supply company found me someone to shadow, and that started my process of learning,” said Cote. “I didn’t have Google or YouTube back then, so I had to find other ways to perfect my skills.”
Despite being largely self-taught, Cote completed a three-month course in Ontario that taught her how to install acrylic stucco, which is a waterproof system that many commercial businesses use.
“A lot of people have played a vital role for me along the way,” said Cote. “Many mentors have helped guide me, and I always made it a priority to ask as many questions as I could at each job site.”
A typical workday for Cote is anything but typical. Cote divides her day up between confirming materials, organizing her crew, prepping for the day ahead and completing her work as timely as possible.
“There are plenty of things to consider each day. There’s the weather, staff, materials and numerous safety factors,” said Cote. “No one day is the same, which keeps it interesting and is exactly what my personality needs.”
Cote developed a strong love for her trade early on and finds satisfaction in every project she completes with her team.
Encouraging others to join the trades is important to her, and she often urges high school students to apply to the Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP).
“I’ve seen a lot of men and women, my daughter included, complete the RAP program and go on to have amazing apprenticeships and move up in their careers,” said Cote.
As someone who now trains others in her line of work, Cote is always willing to offer advice to those interested in joining the trades. For students still in school, she suggests taking an aptitude test and working with a school counsellor to find their best path forward.
For adults, especially women, Cote recommends following the industries that spark their passions.
“Get on the computer. Talk to people. Network. Seek out people who are already in the industry you want to be in. Let nothing discourage you from the path you’ve chosen and if you feel lost, whether you’re young or an adult, find a support system,” said Cote. “The trades are rewarding in more ways than one.”