Conestoga's ‘Jill of All Trades’ gives young women hands‑on experience in the trades

Nearly 300 high school girls rolled up their sleeves at the state-of-the-art Conestoga Skilled Trades Campus in Cambridge, Ont. to get hands-on experience in a variety of trades at the college’s trademarked Jill of All Trades (JOAT) on May 29.

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The day-long event to inspire young women in Grades 9 to 12 and promote careers in the skilled trades attracted students from 11 school boards in Southwestern Ontario who tried their hand at the basics of the trades taught at Conestoga including masonry, framing and insulation, carpentry, automotive repair, welding and HVAC. They also met women working in the trades and connected with industry representatives.

Conestoga launched Jill of All Trades in 2014 for local high school women to learn about opportunities available in trades-based education and careers from female mentors. JOAT has become so successful that it is now delivered at other institutions throughout Ontario, across Canada and the United States.

HGTV host and North American Jill of All Trades ambassador Mandy Rennehan, known as “The Blue Collar CEO”, sent a video address to the girls attending, encouraging them to consider pursuing a skilled trade.

“Women belong in the trades,” Rennehan said. “Don’t think about it. Do it because today is the first day of you becoming what the world needs more of.”

The demand to keep pace with population growth and changing workforce demographics has led to a growing skills gap. Reports indicate that more than 700,000 skilled tradespeople are set to retire by 2028. Canada needs more than 167,000 new apprentices alone to keep pace. According to Statistics Canada, women account for roughly four per of workers in under-represented skilled trades occupations.

“We’re creating a movement across North America and we’re hoping to have an impact so that we see more young women choose skilled trades careers,” said Rosie Hessian, chair of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and director of Jill of All Trades. “We’re proud of the work we’re doing and the support we have from our volunteers and sponsors.”

Conestoga graduate and alumna of distinction Brandi Ferenc – a trailblazer committed to mentoring other women in the trades – told participants she knows first-hand how far a skilled trade can take them.

Ferenc graduated from Conestoga’s Women in Skilled Trades (WIST) program that teaches carpentry, before trying plumbing and then finally finding her passion in HVAC. With the training and experience under her belt, Ferenc founded her company Fair-Trades Toolbox and became a college instructor.

“It is a mostly male class, but I get those two or three female students now every year and I love it,” Ferenc said. “And every year I hope for one extra one.”

About Conestoga and Jill of All Trades

Conestoga is a provincial leader in the delivery of trades and apprenticeship training to serve industry needs and growing communities. Through gender-specific programming and mentoring opportunities like Jill of All Trades, the college assists and encourages women to pursue careers in under-represented and non-traditional occupations.

The Conestoga Skilled Trades Campus opened in fall 2022 to modernize apprenticeship and skills training. Phase II of the campus is currently underway and when complete it will be the largest skilled trades training facility in Canada.

Jill of All Trades was recently honoured at the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest Rogers Women of the Year gala with the Group Achievement award for achievements by a group of women that impact and/or improve our community or society. Founders Rosie Hessian, chair of Interdisciplinary Studies, and Brenda Gilmore, Conestoga retiree and School of Business graduate, were both recognized.


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