Can we call a woman plumber? (Editorial)

By John Hobel
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/11/2004

There was a time when a woman doctor was a rarity. When women routinely endured unwanted comments in the office. When promotions and pay raises consistently overlooked women. And while equity and harassment problems still exist, women have advanced greatly in the workplace over the last two decades, and so too have the attitudes and behaviour of men. But this change has yet to take hold in the trades sector — much to the detriment of employers faced with severe labour shortages.

Uyen Vu’s cover story on apprenticeships looks at the need to improve the image of trades — mistakenly viewed by some as a default career for academic underachievers. Young people, parents and society in general have to be sold on a new image of trades as an attractive vocation if apprenticeship programs are to attract the people needed to avert a looming shortage of skilled workers.

But the trades’ image problem goes deeper than the need to pitch the availability of well-paying jobs for intelligent people. As long as the trades are viewed as bastions of male chauvinism, women won’t join the ranks of blue-collar workers, and perhaps the best hope for solving labour force shortages will go unrealized. Women account for about one-tenth of apprenticeship positions, according to the government of Ontario, and unless discrimination and harassment in the sector are dealt with, those numbers are unlikely to change.