Twenty-one-year-old Mila Puharich

Camosun program helps new generation of tradeswomen

Of the 14 students in last year’s program, six have moved on to other trades programs.

At 21-years-old and 130 pounds, Mila Puharich knows she faces a few hurdles working as a steel fitter. “There are challenges, but they are more about showing you’re confident enough,” she said. “You have to be able to prove you’re able to do the job (but) you have to do that in every job, no matter what gender you are.”

Since entering Camosun College’s Women in Trades Exploration program last year and completing her Level C welding training in March, Puharich heard a range of typical concerns from her female friends: “Isn’t it a man’s trade? How are you going to survive? Aren’t they going to push you around?”

She’s now an apprentice, and the only woman, in large scale repair at Victoria Shipyards.

Times are changing and there are more opportunities for women because of programs such as Women in Trades, which starts its next set of classes Oct. 3 at Camosun Interurban.

But for Puharich, a career in trades is following in her family’s footsteps.

“I don’t think I’m trades-minded, I just think we’re hands on people,” Puharich added.

Her grandfather was a welder, her father was an aircraft maintenance engineer, her sister is a carpenter and her mother was a former small engine mechanic – who also built the family home.

“It’s a hard go for women in industry, in any non-traditional occupation. I’ve found that myself,” said Puharich’s mom, Val Aloian. “It was hard to get anywhere in those days, and now there’s a lot more support.”

The 62-year-old, also a former professor of criminology, said her daughters’ interest in the trades was most likely to do with the availability of tools and workspaces around their household.

“I guess it’s just an environment with lots of tools and lots of opportunity to use the tools,” Aloian said. “Even if you can’t do it well, you can still produce something. That was the environment the kids grew up in.”

Of the 14 students in last year’s program, six have moved on to other trades programs. The exploration program, aimed at helping unemployed or underemployed women gain skills to become tradespeople, is offered through the Women in Trades Training Initiative and sponsored through the Industry Training Authority and the Canada-B.C Labour Market Agreement. Since its inception in 2008, 1,021 women have benefited from the provincial training initiative.

“A lot of females go into automotive service tech,” said Karen McNeill, trades training development co-ordinator at Camosun. “They’ve tinkered with gears with their dad and all of a sudden they’re thinking they’d like to move into that field. It works that way with everyone in the trades.”

The $5,200 tuition for Women in Trades is free to students who haven’t completed a post-secondary education and aren’t eligible for employment insurance. The course includes: books, supplies and tools for the trades; two days of instruction in each of 10 trades; bus passes; forklift training; basic first aid; fall protection; upgrading basic math and English, as well as worksite tours.

This year’s course runs Oct. 3 – Dec. 16.

For more information, contact McNeill at mcneillk@camosun.bc.ca.

nnorth@saanichnews.com

Did you know?

• Women make up more than half of the workforce in B.C., yet only 6.7 per cent of people working in trades, transport, equipment and operations are women.

Employment by industry in Canada

(in thousands) 2010, Statistics Canada:

• Construction

Men: 1,087.6, Women: 129.6

• Manufacturing

Men: 1,262.4, Women: 482.0

• Utilities

Men: 113.4, Women: 34.9

• Educational services

Men: 403.8, Women: 814.1

• Health care and social assistance

Men: 363.1, Women: 1,667.7

• Finance, insurance, real estate and leasing

Men: 475.7, Women: 620.

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