A Skilled #GirlForce Makes Good Business SenseOctober 11, 2018
Encouraging a skilled #GirlForce is good for Ontario’s labour market and economy.
October 11 marks International Day of the Girl and this year’s theme is “With Her: A Skilled GirlForce”. This important initiative is something we should take note of in Ontario, bringing attention to opportunities for girls to attain skills for employability.
If you look at our current and future labour challenges, paving the way for girls is more than just about “fairness” – it makes good business sense. Encouraging more young women to enter technical fields is vital to the long-term prosperity of our province.
I was raised in small-town southwestern Ontario by a strong mother who told me not to wait for a door to be opened, but to kick it down myself. Largely thanks to that support, I have been able to navigate a career in traditionally male-dominated industries. But not all girls receive that message, and not all barriers can be kicked down alone.
Women accounted for the majority of university degree-holders in 2011 yet, regardless of mathematical ability in high school, were less likely than men to choose a STEM post-secondary program. Last year, the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters released a report stating women account for just 4.5 percent of skilled trade workers, a number that has remained unchanged in the last 30 years. It noted that many girls don’t consider trades as a career path because of the traditional perception that trades are for men and that the culture is unwelcoming for women.
This narrative continues to compromise girls reaching their full potential and with that, compromising Ontario’s prosperity. With 77 percent of Ontario businesses stating that access to talent is critical to their competitiveness, it is clear we need more girls in more skilled occupations than ever before. This is not just a critical social issue, it’s a critical economic issue.
Of the new jobs created in the next decade in Ontario, 40 percent are expected to be in the skilled trades, but only 26 percent of young people aged 13 to 24 are considering a career in these areas. The current skills shortage across the province is a very real problem. Jobs are going unfilled while the demand for highly-trained workers continues to increase. These technical jobs in the skilled trades and in STEM are generally well-compensated, making it even more important to the future prosperity of girls that we encourage them to enter these fields.
Unfortunately, in a 2017 report, the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers identified the workplace barriers experienced by women in STEM, which included, among others, disrespect, discrimination and harassment. While the report also identified practical strategies employers can implement to address these issues, it is clear more work needs to be done to make the workplace ready for a “girlforce”.
The government can help pave the path for more girls by modernizing Ontario’s apprenticeship system and ensuring our post-secondary institutions are able to prepare all young people for our rapidly-evolving economy. But it is up to industry to create a culture welcoming of girls.
We need to work together to make a skilled girlforce a priority every day of the year. Creating a girlforce is fundamental to the prosperity of our province and we all have a part to play in making it a reality.