MONCTON – In the welding shop at the Moncton Campus of New Brunswick Community College (NBCC), it’s hot, it’s noisy and sparks are flying. A couple of generations ago, one might have said it’s no place for a lady. For nine women from southeastern New Brunswick, there was no other place they wanted to be for a week this past summer.
The nine were the first cohort of participants in the CWB Welding Foundation’s Women of Steel: Forging New Opportunities program. Moncton was one of six locations across Canada hosting a 30-hour introductory course on welding for women, funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Skilled Trades Awareness and Readiness Program.
“I love it. It’s a chance to be a badass and a nerd at the same time,” said Julia Feltham of Sackville, pulling up her mask and putting down her torch for a break. “I’m a community economic developer, so I think learning about the trades and the gender gap for women is important.
“I’m looking at what I can do with it, maybe how I can help support my family.”
The Introduction to Welding program is designed to encourage women to explore careers in welding. With real work experience, the program provides a pathway to employment in various industries where the welding trade is experiencing skills shortages, assists women in making informed career choices and helps them develop the skills required for rewarding, sustainable jobs in an in-demand industry.
“Women represent more than half of the general population, but only four per cent of skilled tradespeople are women,” said Catherine Black, Dean of Trades at NBCC and Regional Director of the Moncton Campus. “There’s a lot of work to be done in closing that gap, and by working with our partners, we can respond to New Brunswick’s labour market needs while helping to ensure that female representation in the trades increases.”
For some members of the Women of Steel class, participation is a pathway to further learning and future employment. For others, it’s just an opportunity to learn something new, at any age.
“I’ve been retired for eight years,” said Carolyn Bembridge, age 63. “I simply wanted to learn how to weld, so I can fix my canoe trailer myself.”
Participant Alana Moroumer, an arts student at Mount Allison University, plans to take her newfound welding skills to her artist’s studio.
“I had done some welding before and I really enjoyed it, so I decided to learn more,” she said. “I think it’s very important for art.”
Between five and 10 per cent of trades students across NBCC are women, said Al DeWitt, department head of Metals Processing and Construction at the Moncton Campus. As a general rule of thumb, they succeed in the classroom and on the job.
“They arrive here already engaged and ready to learn,” he said. “They usually end up at the top of the class.”