Women in Trades and Technology hits the road

As a female welder and metal fabricator, Allison Zerr knows how important it is to have a female mentor in her field. Zerr was introduced to Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Women in Trades and Technology (WITT) in 2014, when she applied to teach the welding portion of the exploratory sessions and weekend workshops. “That’s when it hit home, I really was able to experience the benefits of being or having a female mentor,” she says. Now Zerr is the program head of WITT and loves sharing her career journey with other girls and women looking for a career in the trades. Her goal is to create more outreach programs to encourage more women to succeed in non-traditional underrepresented careers.

“I did some welding in high school, I knew the pay was good and there was lots of job flexibility,” Zerr says. “I took a chance, and it worked out. Family and friends were generally supportive of my education and career choice. My dad teased me about going into a man’s trade, but he’s proud of all I have accomplished now.”

Zerr is a Red Seal and Blue Seal welder, a Red Seal metal fabricator and a level one weld inspector. She started as an apprentice with JNE Welding and worked with them for nearly eight years before moving to work full time at Sask Polytech as a coordinator with WITT. “Throughout my apprenticeship training at Sask Polytech, I was the only female. Often at the JNE Welding shop I was the only female working during my shift. The guys in my program and at work were always supportive. Sometimes they were a little overprotective and I would have to remind them – I got this.”

When asked why she is passionate about women in trades Zerr shares, “I want to be a part of the change. Sometimes when you ask female students why they got into the trades, they will share how their dad or uncle inspired them. I want future students to be inspired by their moms and aunts too. I want our female students to be the inspiration for future generations.”

Zerr became the WITT program head in May 2022. One of her goals was to organize outreach with Sask Polytech’s WITT training unit, which hasn’t been used recently due to the pandemic. The WITT training unit is a mini 4’ x 8’ trailer that is stocked up with the appropriate tools and supplies to be able to ‘take our classroom with us’ and provide training in carpentry, automotive, plumbing and electrical.

Last fall the WITT training unit was in Rocanville working in partnership with Nutrien for three weekend exploratory workshops. The goal of these workshops was to introduce young women, ages 15 to 19, to different trade opportunities. Females in various underrepresented trades from the Nutrien Rocanville site volunteered their time to share their experience and encourage other females in this program to consider a career in the trades.

“With these workshops we’re showing girls what’s out there, giving them the opportunity to ask questions and shine a light on education options that might have been previously overlooked,” says Zerr. “The workshops were full. Originally, we were going to offer 12 seats but expanded to 14.”

The workshops were set-up in the curling rink with the use of the tools provided from the WITT training unit. The first workshop focused on carpentry and automotive where participants learned how to safely use common power tools. The second workshop focused on electrical and plumbing, where girls were shown how to run wires in a residential setting. The final weekend workshop focused on welding and machining.

“Through offering these workshops near the Nutrien Rocanville site, we hope the girls will consider a career in the trades and realize they can work for mining companies like Nutrien in the future,” says Zerr.

Last fall Sask Polytech also partnered with Carlton Trail College and BHP to offer pre-apprenticeship trades training for women in Humboldt. This pre-apprenticeship preparation offers participants free training, along with a salary and the opportunity for future employment. Participants are introduced to construction electrician, carpentry, instrumentation, industrial mechanic, and heavy-duty equipment technician careers. The course was full with 10 seats and took place September 12 – November 10 at Carlton Trail College.

“These pre-employment courses provide base knowledge and skills which allow female students to gain employment before applying to become an apprentice,” says Zerr. “It also helps learners decide what career path they may want to take in the trades. It’s a really valuable opportunity.”

To learn more visit saskpolytech.ca/witt.

This article was originally published in Building Saskatchewan magazine, the official publication of the Saskatchewan building trades.

Saskatchewan Polytechnic is signatory to the SDG Accord. Sustainable Development Goal alignment is one of the ways Sask Polytech is leading the rise of polytechnic education.

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