When Kamloops, British Columbia, Local 993 member Alison Klie got to the Royal Inland Hospital jobsite, she saw something very different from just about every other job she'd been to in her 10-year career: another woman.
|British Columbia, Local 993 member Alison Klie working at the Royal Inland Hospital.
"My first day at the hospital tower I kept seeing women I knew through 993 and it blew me away," Klie said. "I have never been on a site with so many women before and I love it. I think it brings a different energy to the job and definitely among the women themselves. I also feel a sense of pride that my union and the company I work for has made this possible."
The Royal Inland Hospital project, located in Kamloops, has 17% women and Indigenous people working on it, much higher than the usual 3 or 4%. And that's due in large part to efforts from Local 993 and other British Columbia-based groups dedicated to making the trades more inclusive.
"Having 17% representation is unusual for a jobsite," said Local 993 Assistant Business Manager Mollie Routledge. "It's also amazing."
Recruiting and retaining more people from historically marginalized groups isn't just good for the new members. It's also needed for the construction industry to meet demand in the coming years. According the BC Building Trades, a large population of skilled trade workers is gearing up for retirement, and an estimated 300,000 Canadian workers will need to be recruited over the next decade to fill the gap. The hospital's tower project alone, which has contracted with IBEW signatories Houle Electric and ESC Automation, will require over 100 electricians at its peak.
Getting 17% representation comes in part from doing something seemingly simple: having new members meet other members who look like them. Local 993, which covers northern British Columbia as well as the Yukon Territory, makes sure to have its women officers, who are involved in membership development, meet the new recruits.
"It gives a fresh face to a male-dominated industry," said Routledge, who co-chairs Local 993's women's committee and sits on the board of BC Build Together, a woman-focused campaign of the BC Building Trades.
The local's women's committee has been developing a boots-on-the-ground approach, Routledge said, which is currently being used on the Royal Inland Hospital project. New women electricians are given contact information for other women members they can contact for guidance and support.
"Having another woman to talk to, just to say out loud what's happening, makes a big difference," said Angie Camille, Local 993's Indigenous coordinator. "When I first started out, I had no one to talk to."
As a First Nations member, Camille knows what it's like to be the only one on a jobsite. She's also only one generation removed from Canada's residential school system, a bleak period in the country's history that involved forced assimilation and abuse of Indigenous people.
"We survived," Camille said. "And now I can speak to other First Nations people, as an electrician with my journey ticket, and tell them, 'If I can do it, so can you.'"
Camille is also the First District's representative to the IBEW International Women's Committee.
"When a vacancy occurred in our District for the International Women's Committee, I didn't hesitate to reach out to Local 993. They've been doing great work to attract and retain more female and Indigenous workers over the years," said First District International Vice President Tom Reid, who nominated Camille last November. "Angie is a passionate member and I look forward to her representing the First District on the committee. She brings a lot to the table."
Camille's journey has been far from easy. She's dealt with everything from being relegated to mostly cleaning work on jobsites and struggling to get enough hours, to being the only Indigenous woman on a site with more than 500 workers, and even death threats. But she made a promise to her grandmother to see it through, and she couldn't go back on that.
"She told me that I couldn't quit, no matter what, and that I had to respect myself and the job," Camille said. "So, whenever I felt defeated, I remembered my grandmother."
Her grandmother also gave her another piece of advice.
"She told me, 'They're more afraid of you being there than you are.'"
The coronavirus has halted much of the outreach that Routledge and Camille would normally do to trades schools and colleges. But the local's women's committee is forging ahead with meetings through conference calls and Zoom for mentoring, planning, fundraising and organizing events.
"The thing that really jumps out to me that 993 does well is it offers support and connection for its more marginalized members," said Klie, who is also a mentor. "Mollie would always make sure to talk with me at the meetings and make me feel welcome there. Now I make sure to say hi and be friendly to those who are new or seem a little uncomfortable."
Klie came into the trade by accident. When she told her high school career counselor that she was interested in the esthetician program, she accidentally got the electrician forms instead. But after thinking it over, she decided to try it out and she's never looked back. It even led to her running for city council and meeting the B.C. premier.
"I'm a more confident person because of what I have experienced throughout my career as an electrician," Klie said. "Without that confidence I could have never run for council or stood in front of the premier and told him how, as a woman on a nonunion job, I made 3–5 dollars less an hour than my male counterparts."
Klie has also been invited to speak to the Thompson Rivers University Women in Trades Training class about her experience in the trades.
"I was never a fan of public speaking, but for some reason talking about my job just comes naturally, no matter how many people I'm in front of," Klie said.
Camille, Klie and Routledge all emphasized the importance of having the support of leadership to create and implement initiatives like a successful women's committee and mentorship program.
"Our business manager, Glen Hilton, is very supportive of our efforts. He's always open to hearing our ideas," Klie said. "As a woman, I have felt more accepted and appreciated as a member of 993 than I have at most of my past jobs and that goes a long way for retention."