Women needed to fill construction jobs as skilled trades shortage continues

Acacia Ashick
Acacia Ashick

Ontario Construction News staff writer

Of the estimated 126,000 people in construction trades in Ontario, about 3,200 are women. About half of them dropped out of school, and a third have small children.

With an ageing workforce, labour shortages, and economic growth across the country, the Construction Sector Council estimates that there will be a labour shortfall of more than a million skilled workers by 2020.

As a result, employers, municipalities and the Ontario government are encouraging women to consider construction careers.

Ontario alone funds several skilled trades programs aimed at women.

Many women excelling in the industry are encouraging and mentoring others to follow their lead and Ontario Construction News is recognizing some of them this week:

 Acacia Ashick is vice-president and director of marketing at the Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC) and a construction project co-ordinator at Urbacon in Toronto.

She was intrigued by the idea of a construction career because she knew the work creates solutions to real human needs – with each project impacting clients positively and changing lives for those who used the space. She enjoys building and being a part of something tangible.

She enjoys the multidisciplinary aspect of her job as a Construction Project Coordinator through assisting in managing projects, people and expectations on and off the construction site.

Also, every project is unique and interesting; no two projects are exactly the same so you are constantly learning as well as integrating elements of what you already know.

Today she shares her success and encourages young women considering construction careers where they will find diverse roles that are offered; from on site superintendents of trades, to accounting and business development, to project management and coordination roles, there is something here for everyone!

Her advice for young women considering a career in construction today? “Be confident, ask questions and embrace your enthusiasm.”

As a child, Bijal Dalal was fascinated by tall buildings and the challenge of trying to figure out how they were built. That curiosity and deep interest eventually led her to pursue a career in construction.

Today, as a junior estimator with Tribute Communities in Toronto, she has the answer to her question. She’s been working in the construction industry for several years now after graduating from the residential construction management post-graduate program at George Brown College (GBC) in Toronto.

The co-op education program is offered in collaboration with the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) and provides students with a range of skills to work on low- and high-rise projects.

For Dalal, who immigrated to Toronto in 2017 from India, graduating from the GBC-RESCON program enabled her to begin a career as an estimator.

Tamara Baptiste, a graduate of the GBC-RESCON program, is an architectural projects co-ordinator with the Regional Municipality of York. She provides technical expertise in the planning, design, implementation, and management of projects for the housing facilities managed by the region.

She started in the industry doing operations, project management and administrative work for a residential and commercial project contractor.

“I really enjoyed my experience in the construction industry and, although I did not know much about all the different opportunities it had to offer. I had this feeling I was missing something and wanted to know and learn more to see where I could go with it,” explains Baptiste.

After graduation, she went to work at The Daniels Corporation and eventually moved into her present role.

“I made this shift from site construction because I wanted to experience and learn the process before a construction project started,” she says. “Theoretically I knew, but my style of learning and really understanding is to do, and I needed to be part of the steps to get there – the other side of things.”

Meagan Donnelly of Whitby, is a drywaller and member of Drywall Local 675. She’d been a social worker but wanted a change and a friend told her to check out construction. She did and has been working in the industry for several years now in a crew of eight men.

“Some women may find that a bit intimidating in that field, but honestly, they have been extremely welcoming, and I couldn’t be happier,” she says. “I’ve been treated with respect and have been seen as a valuable asset to any project I’ve been on.”

While the job is a lot of hard work and not for everyone, Donnelly notes many women would love the trades.

Raly Chakarova, executive director at BOLT Charitable Foundation, helps under-resourced youth connect to careers in construction, says the industry is a great career choice for anyone who enjoys being part of a team, is a critical thinker and detail-oriented, and especially those who are creative and enjoy building something with their hands.

“What’s more, is that these jobs tend to be well-compensated with family-sustaining wages, they have skills-security and portability in a disruptive and quickly changing world, they are in-demand and will be for the foreseeable future.

Aliya Hirji, a third-year construction management student from Toronto’s George Brown College has been presented with the inaugural Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) scholarship of excellence.

Hirji, who also completed an honours degree in architectural technology last year, says her diverse background and exposure to multiple design methods are among her greatest assets for working in the industry.

“As a student bridging the world of architecture and construction, my vision is to bring change to the industry as a young, innovative, and highly skilled woman with a great eye for design,” she said.

She grew up in Tanzania and arrived alone in a new country—facing a new school and a whole new system—and a tremendous cultural shock. Previously, the only construction materials she was exposed to were concrete and steel.

“I found myself overwhelmed with the different methods of deployment in Canada and often lagged in understanding the science behind them. However, this sparked a drive in me to rise to the challenge.”

Building sustainable communities that thrive. That’s what new director of sustainability, Prabh K. Banga, wants Aecon’s legacy in sustainability to be.

In her new role, Prabh is dedicated to expanding Aecon’s sustainability initiatives and commitments to environmental, social and governance (ESG) processes and strategies

“My sustainability journey first began at the age of five. I discovered a passion for green living after watching the cartoon movie, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. If you have not seen it, it’s a good watch – especially for kids!

Coming from a family of farmers, the interest in sustainability further developed while listening to stories from her grandparents about the interconnectedness of nature, its ecosystems, and our food production. These stories fed into my environmental passion, and I was fascinated by how efficiently resources were used on farms.

She was recognized as one of the Top 40 Under 40 Individuals by the Airport Business Magazine for contributions to accelerating sustainability in the aviation industry where she was involved in multiple infrastructure projects.


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