Jessie’s Journey
/ Author: James Oostenbrink
/ Categories: Locals, Local 68, Newsletters, BC Local 68 /
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Jessie’s Journey

Jessie Cook is passionate about the skilled trades and the career opportunities they provide to a greatly underrepresented group in construction—women

By Jim Oostenbrink, Representative

There are many women in Canada who may want to enter the construction trades but are not sure what to really expect. With the majority of trades still dominated by men, women face many obstacles and fears when considering a career in construction.

Currently, the percentage of women in the trades is only 4.5 percent. With a looming shortage of Canadian workers in the trades, there is a huge opportunity for women to enter many different sectors of the industry.

There is a growing recognition that strategies need to be created at all levels to support women. The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum has developed a national strategy for supporting women in the trades to create sustainable and measurable change for women working in the skilled trades. With a taskforce of tradeswomen, employers, labour representatives (including CLAC), educators, and equity groups, Supporting Women in the Trades (SWIT) is poised to promote real change for women in the trades.

One of these women serving on SWIT is Local 68 member Jessie Cook, who has over six years experience on five different major construction sites ranging from pipelines to the massive Site C Clean Energy Project. With experience in Ontario, Alberta, and BC, Jessie has seen plenty of construction work in her career.

She describes herself as a “dirt girl” with her hands-on experience in multiple trades and operating heavy equipment. Starting out in the culinary arts, Jessie began her career cooking food in camps. She quickly realized that she wanted to be working on the site doing construction stuff.

Jessie worked hard starting out as a labourer and learning whatever was thrown at her. Picking up skills in welding, fabrication, millwright, concrete production, and equipment operation, she built up an impressive resume in a very short period of time.

In addition to her practical skills development, Jessie completed as many tickets as she could, which increased her opportunities to work on large heavy-civil projects. She is a go-getter and has a real passion for sharing her experiences with other women who may be considering the trades but are not sure what to expect.

Jessie was looking for a practical way to share her experiences with high school classes, colleges, technical institutions, and even career fairs. She took the initiative to develop a proposal and then called the CLAC Kelowna Member Centre to see if she could help out in some way. Her energy and passion for sharing her story with other women was so compelling, how could we possibly say no!

The CLAC marketing team jumped on board right away and saw an opportunity to support Jessie with every means possible. It was quite simple. We needed to find an effective way to share her experiences and challenges and to promote and encourage other women as to the incredible possibilities a trades career could offer. We needed to get Jessie in front of trades classes and high schools where women are starting to think about their career choices.

Jessie has now presented to the Thompson River University trades class for women and the Kelowna senior secondary high school.

Throughout her presentations, Jessie outlines her personal story, the Canadian skilled trades shortage, the benefits and challenges of working in the trades, and whether it is the right fit for you. There was an opportunity for women to ask questions, which included how to get started, resources, financial support, and organizations that offer specific support for women. Feedback from participants has been very positive.

This is only the beginning. It is time to move the needle as they say. SWIT’s goal is to have women make up 15 percent of the workforce in the trades from the current 4.5 percent.

As a member of the SWIT committee within CLAC, Jessie is looking for many ways to spread the news that the trades are a real option for women. She welcomes the opportunity to speak at as many venues as she can going forward.

Canada needs to have a much higher participation rate of women in construction, and Jessie has a personal goal to build that awareness throughout Canada.

Look for a feature on Jessie in the June 2023 issue of the Guide, CLAC’s national magazine for members.

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