Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Women in Trades & Technology at Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Dedicated to increasing the number of women in Saskatchewan trades and technology for 30 years

The Saskatchewan Polytechnic Women in Trades & Technology WITT program was greatly influenced by the women who founded Saskatchewan Tradeswomen in the 1970s, a movement that eventually formed Saskatchewan Women in Trades and Technology (SaskWITT). These women were leaders in a national movement to bring like-minded women together to remove barriers in traditionally male occupations. Sask Polytech’s WITT program has evolved over the past 30 years, but the goal remains the same: encourage and assist women interested in trades and technology careers.

“More women in trades and technology means a broader diversity of perspectives and opinions in the field,” shares Valerie Overend, founding member of SaskWITT and previous Sask Polytech WITT provincial facilitator. “This can result in a diverse team that comes up with unique solutions to problems. It will also encourage other women to pursue their interests in trades and technology.”

In 1991, WITT launched one of its most popular programs — the Girls Exploring Trades and Technology (GETT) camps. These camps have reached over 3,500 girls in grades six, seven and eight and have grown from one-day to five-day camps. They aim to demystify trades and tools as participants work on fun projects including woodworking, plumbing, auto-body work and welding.

“GETT girls are encouraged to be inventive and problem solve,” shares Jessica Baldwin, Sask Polytech WITT provincial facilitator. “The result is a week of girl-power where campers see themselves in an otherwise overlooked technology and trades occupation.”

In 1994, Sask Polytech started Women in Trades Exploratory Workshops. Over the course of the workshop, women aged 16 and older learn basic carpentry, welding, electrical or plumbing skills. They leave with tangible skills such as framing and erecting a wall, installing a toilet and wiring an electrical outlet.

With the rise of information technology, WITT started providing free hands-on, beginner-friendly, technology-based workshops in the early 2000s.

“Like much of our programming, the focus of our technology workshops has evolved over the years,” says Baldwin. “The latest workshop trains women to take apart and rebuild a computer using safe lab procedures and proper tools. Women also learn the various components of a computer network.”

In addition to these curriculum-driven programs, WITT runs an informal mentorship program that matches students and apprentices with experienced professionals. Women are matched on field of expertise, family situation or cultural background. The mentorship program includes a few networking events throughout the year, which are great opportunities for the women to discuss challenges, celebrate wins and learn about new job opportunities. 

“WITT at Sask Polytech’s goal is to bridge the employment gap between men and women in trades and technology careers,” says Overend. “WITT should be proud of the work it has accomplished for Saskatchewan women over the last 30 years. We have made so much progress, but there is still a long way to go.”

WITT works with instructors, employers, professionals and non-profits to build curriculum for camps, workshops and mentorship programs that teach women valuable skills, encourage women to think about different career options and address barriers that may limit women in trades and technology. 

This story was originally wrote for We Build - Saskatchewan Construction Association's magazine.

Published April 2017.