Women at work
Weeklong camp for girls in trades and technology kicks off, will end with scooter race on Friday
Monday morning, 11 girls stand watching a woman drop various tools through a metal chute onto a Styrofoam dummy head, first with a hard hat and then without it.
The screwdriver bounces off the head, but leaves a mark. The wrench sinks in several inches and sticks. There is a collective impressed gasp from the girls. “He is dead,” says one, definitively. This safety demonstration is the first — and perhaps least exciting — part of the weeklong Girls Exploring Trades and Technology camp at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, which kicked off on Monday. It has been running for more than 25 years and has seen 3,500 girls take part.
“One of the mums who was in one of the first camps, her kid is in it this year,” Michelle Lanoie, Women in Trades and Technology (WITT) co-ordinator, told the Times-Herald. “We’re starting to really see that turnaround, and it’s great to see.”
The program is designed to introduce girls in Grades 6 through 8 to various trades, as well as to the women who work in them. Participants will work on scooters throughout the week, which they get to take home with them at the end, and will race them come Friday. The instructors are also women, something Lanoie said is important when it comes to showing the girls examples of real people working in the industry.
“This course, it’s not just carpentry,” said instructor Pat Fayant, who herself started in the WITT program more than 20 years ago. “They get to meet other tradeswomen who love their jobs.”
Fayant said she had never thought about teaching, that as a single mother, she just wanted to be able to work. Now, she has found being an instructor in the camp a rewarding thing in and of itself.
“Having all these girls together, they’re just more comfortable,” she said. “We’ve found that women learn best from other women.”
While it was only the very first few hours, some of the girls said they could already see a difference, not having boys around.
“We’re actually getting things done,” said Emily Closs. “(Boys) interrupt everything.”
She said that at home, she is always building things with her dad, and when her mother saw the camp advertised on Facebook, she decided to give it a try.
We’re actually getting things done. (Boys) interrupt everything. Emily Closs
Emalee Steeves said her father works for one of the companies that is sponsoring the camp and got an email about it.
“My brother is really annoying,” she said, though she admitted to borrowing his Lego to build things. “It’s nice to be with girls my own age.”
Tiarra Noble wasn’t so sure about the all-female program, but said she was interested in trades and technology and wanted to get out of the house and make new friends. Lanoie said that having a camp just for girls allows them to get comfortable with each other and the experience, without having boys around who may already know how to do things or might make fun of them.
“We get to see them when they come in and they’re pretty meek,” she said. “And in just a few days, their whole demeanor changes. When they leave, they’re confident and competent, and they’ve got their heads held high and their shoulders back.”
Lanoie hopes to see some of the girls who got through the camp enroll in trades programs at the polytechnic when they get older. She said there are all kinds of scholarships and opportunities for women in the male-dominated field.
Those demographics, partly because of camps like this one, are slowly changing. Fayant said that 20 years ago, when she started, women on jobsites and in shops had to be tough.
“It’s not so bad these days,” she said. “It’s pretty common to see women working in all kinds of trades.”
Her fellow instructor and carpenter Sherry Froess agreed.
“It’s so important to get them young,” she said. “It shows them that women can do this.”
From left, Emily Closs, Callen Nyhof, Sommer Ambrose, Grace Leaman, Emma Doucette, Emalee Steeves, and Mackenzie Measner show off what happens to a dummy head when a wrench falls in it without a hard hat.
Instructors Pat Fayant (left) and Sherry Froess get ready to teach the girls some carpentry in the shop at Saskatchewan Polytechnic on Monday.