When Robyn Hacking entered the trades nearly 10 years ago, she faced an uphill battle to earn the respect she deserved as a top-of-her-class graduate from Camosun College, simply because she was a woman.
Fresh out of school, she applied for hundreds of jobs she was qualified for, but only got a single offer, and later found out that offer was only because the company making it would have a better chance of earning a government contract if they could say they had a woman on staff.
“It was really challenging. Once I had my foot in the door, it wasn’t too bad, but I really wanted to do fire sprinklers,” said Hacking. “I got a call from my union one day to come and do exactly that. The very first day on the job, my journeyman thought Robyn was a boy, and so when he showed up and saw I was definitely not a boy, he called my boss right in front of me and asked ‘isn’t there anyone else?’”
Fortunately, in the years since, Hacking said things have improved for women entering the skilled trades. But there is still plenty of work to be done.
For the past 12 years, Camosun has been offering programs specifically aimed at helping women get into the trades. Speaking at a celebration of the school’s women in trades programming on Sept. 21, Hacking said programs like it are so important for women as beyond the skills everyone needs, they provide an important network of other women who understand what everyone is going through and are there to provide support whenever needed.
She credits a Facebook group for B.C. women in trades which provided a similar support network as being a key to her career success which has allowed her to come full circle and help new tradespeople find success through her current position with the Industry Training Authority.
First-year plumbing student Avalon Crawford said the school’s approach to women in trades has been a very positive experience for her, and it gives her high hopes for the future of the industry.
“I started trades at 18, and it was a bit terrifying. In high school, I was one of the first girls to do mechanics, and everyone was like ‘what are you doing,’” said Crawford. “Then I found the women in trades programs at Camosun, and I was like ‘wow, they actually care and will help you.’ Going into it, it felt like a family from day one and has been really awesome.”