The trades industry is desperate to fill a massive workforce gap that's predicted for the coming years due to the perfect storm of aging skilled labourers and a boom in billion-dollar projects.
Several public and private organizations are scrambling to address the coming problem now with an eye to recruiting under represented demographics in the trades, such as women.
On Wednesday, Thompson Rivers University hosted the Industry Training Authority's (ITA) Power Up Women in Trades forum, one of three forums being held across the province to develop strategies for better recruitment and retention of women.
"The tradeswomen talk about mentors, a seasoned woman in their trade they can go to and ask for advice and guidance, that's something that really helps them," said Erin Johnston, director of training initiatives for ITA. "Having female instructors can also be really helpful and just to have a really supportive environment on the worksite."
The forum attracted the B.C. director of training for the massive trades union, CLAC.
Larry Richardson said the industry is becoming a more diverse "mosaic" with an increase of female and First Nations workers, and the change has been widely embraced by employees and union leaders alike.
Richardson said the days of needing muscle bound workers are long gone as hydraulics and machinery now do all the heavy lifting.
And one oft repeated benefit of women workers is their gentler handling of heavy equipment.
Richardson said TRU is one of CLAC's strongest training partners.
The university is already ahead of the curve having implemented strategies over the past five years to attract and retain female trades students.
Lindsay Langill, dean of TRU's trades school, said the focus is on increasing diversity by integrating trades into the university system to dispel the notion that such careers are somehow inferior.
"I've had a few people come up to me and say 'The school of trades doesn't have any part in the university system,' and well, I beg to differ," said Langill.
Another strategy was changing the culture of the industry to one of "respect, respect, respect," he said.
Recruitment efforts are paying off as the number of female trades students rose from two per cent five years ago to 20 per cent today.
And they now have a female instructor to turn to for inspiration.
Amie Schellenberg came on this year as an electrical instructor after years on the tools.
The 30-year-old said she had one negative experience with an older male co-worker who believed women didn't belong in trades. But that was far outweighed by the men who took her under their wing.
She added that the opportunities for women in trades are endless.
"Because of the trades, I've been able to purchase my first home at 21, become a university instructor at 30. Those are two things I'm very proud of in my life," she said. "If you want to be the one in charge of taking your life in a direction, this is a very rewarding option."
The message appears to slowly be getting through as female skilled trade apprentices now number 10 per cent of hands-on trainees throughout the province.
And changes to the industry's demographics are only expected to increase as studies show that 15 per cent is the threshold for a tipping point, said Johnston.
"When the workforce becomes 15 per cent . . . that's when attitudes change, behaviours change, it becomes much more inclusive. The momentum really builds."