A bridge to a career in construction trades with emPOWER

Karys Woodward smiles while standing in a workshop
A partnership with Manpower prepares underemployed women for a career change with specialized skills training.

Launched on International Women’s Day in 2019, emPOWER Women in Construction is a 15-week program designed to draw more women into the construction sector. The Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Northern Development funds the program to help women who are unemployed or marginally employed develop the skills needed to pursue careers in construction.

“Currently women only comprise 5% of the workforce in construction and skilled trades, and our aim is to increase inclusion of women into this sector,” says Heidi Brandley, Director of Workforce Development, Manpower Alberta. “The program introduces participants to a variety of in-demand skills delivered in a safe and inclusive format to break down barriers and increase women’s confidence to pursue their careers within this growth sector.”

As the program enters its fourth year, it continues to pave the way for new career paths. The ongoing collaboration between SAIT and Manpower means another cohort is about to complete their 15-week journey through this one-of-a-kind training initiative.

“Through our unique combination of strengths, we leverage Manpower’s extensive labour market and industry knowledge with SAIT’s state-of-the-art instruction and facilities,” says Brandley. “Participants receive guidance and support from industry leaders in workforce development combined with hands-on practical training from those with extensive expertise in the field.”

SAIT and Manpower have signed a training contract that goes until 2027 to continue the program. “For the next five years, the women of the emPOWER program will be learning foundational skills in a variety of construction trades that will expose them to different types of work,” says Lauren Bishop, Manager, Business Development, Corporate Training Solutions at SAIT. “As inclusion and diversity remain top priorities for companies, we see these women forging paths into a traditionally male-dominated workforce and showing future generations of workers and employers the trades are for everyone!”

Hands-on tour of the construction trades

Participants have the opportunity for instruction in several construction-related fields, such as carpentry, plumbing and pipefitting, electrical installation, framing and insulation. The broad range of options allows participants to try new skills in a safe and supportive environment.

“I decided to take the emPOWER program because I needed new skills and a new career focus — to shake my life up and do something completely different,” says Tara Stewart-Hunt, emPOWER participant. “It doesn't get more ‘different’ than this for me.”

Tara Stewart-Hunt
emPOWER participant

Beyond the technical skill development, participants are also set up for success through employment preparation, including that all-important new resumé, access to SAIT’s Career Advancement Services and personalized support from Manpower.

“As minorities in the field, participants also receive support through mentorship as well as introductions to employers supportive of hiring and advancing opportunities for women into job sites,” says Brandley.

To round out the experience — and increase participants’ confidence at a job site — there’s also time devoted to learning leadership skills, conflict resolution, hand and power tool safety, and blueprint reading. Plus, after the training at SAIT, participants complete a four-week work experience placement to get hands-on practice. Then Manpower connects them to employers for full-time employment, which may include starting an apprenticeship, to start their new career.

Q&A with Tara

What were you most nervous about on your first day in the shop?

👷️ Tara: I was most nervous about the table saw in the shop. I like my fingers and would like to keep them. The excellent instruction allowed me to keep all of my appendages — for that I am extremely thankful.  

Have you enjoyed your experience so far?

👷️ Tara: The SAIT instructors have been great. I don’t know where this leads career-wise yet, as we’re not finished the program. We have two more units to take (plumbing and insulation), so I’m looking forward to acquiring those skills too. 

What have you gained through the program so far?

👷️ Tara: The program has improved my self-esteem. I feel more confident about approaching new tasks and have learned a great deal over the last few weeks. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks. 😉

Get workplace-ready

Learn more about the emPOWER Women in Construction program at an upcoming info session or email empower.yyc@manpower.com.

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