Crews work on the Crystal Serenity cruise ship at the Victoria Shipyards in Esquimalt.

Shipbuilding industry encouraging more women in trades

When Judy Kujundzic was roughly eight years old, she was building things many adults wouldn’t be able to.

When Judy Kujundzic was roughly eight years old, she was building things many adults wouldn’t be able to.

Her parents were adding space onto a small cabin on a recreational property they had in Summerland in the Interior and as a way of keeping Kujundzic busy, they gave her wood and a bunch of nails.

What she did next surprised them.

Kujundzic built a small shed, large enough for two chairs to use as a kid’s club house.

Although it collapsed a few months after she completed it, that moment sparked a life-long passion and career in trades for Kujundzic.

When Kujundzic initially started working in the shipbuilding industry, the stereotype that women do not belong in such a male-dominated industry was highly prevalent — but was one many women were trying to break.

After graduating from high school, Kujundzic worked in a small fabrication shop where she learned how to do fabrication and welding. From there, she worked in a welding shop in Summerland, building and manufacturing farm equipment, until she eventually went on to work at Yarrows Shipyard in Victoria. Once that shipyard closed, Kujundzic made the transition from a small shop environment to a place where several thousand people work on a ship at the Victoria Shipyards.

“In some ways I benefitted because they would throw different tasks at me so I got a really wide variety of work and I loved it,” said the now 59-year-old, who is currently the senior quality assurance manager rep for the shipyard.

“For me, I thrived on the challenge of trying different kinds of work . . . they did it because they needed people to do the work. I love the sense of accomplishment and being able to see what you’ve done at the end of the day.”

Kujundzic has worked on countless ships, on the conversion of B.C. Ferries vessels and helped build one of the first ice breakers on the coast. She eventually went on to get her red seal in welding as well.

Kujundzic is one of hundreds of women now working in the shipbuilding industry.

Now, a Vancouver-based foundation is investing in the future of women in trades.

The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, in conjunction with Seaspan, recently announced a $2.9-million commitment to the province’s marine industrial sector. As part of the investment, Camosun College will receive $300,000 to support women in trades.

Joe O’Rourke, vice president and general manager of the Victoria Shipyards, said the investment helps train the next generation of ship repair and ship building professionals, adding many graduates from the college enter the shipyard’s apprenticeship program.

“Right now, as it is historically, it was a rarity to see a women out there. They do represent half of our population,” said O’Rourke, noting over the years the industry has moved away from the physical labour aspect to where anyone can do highly specialized tasks with the help of machines.

“Women continue to be a larger segment of the workforce and we want to see that reflected in our own workforce.”

According to Stats Canada, in 2011 roughly three per cent of people working in trades were women.

O’Rourke and Kujundzic agreed there has been a slow increase in the number of women entering the industry over the past few years because there has been more outreach by schools and marketing to educate women about opportunities in the workforce.

“For a lot of guys, they get a chance to hang out with their dads and uncles in the shop and get a familiarity with the work,” Kujundzic said.

“Women in trades gives a lot of women an opportunity to do some exploration and get a better idea of what the range of options is before they commit themselves to trades training. It gives them that leg up to be on the same footing that many guys already come into it with.”