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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Construction program builds confidence in women

By Dorothea Helms
Special to The Toronto Sun

For someone who believed that most household repairs could be accomplished with a butter knife, the challenge was intriguing. Jill Ritchie, a lead construction instructor at The Centre for Skills Development & Training's Burlington location, invited me to spend a day working in the current New Home Service Technician program being provided in conjunction with the Ontario Women's Directorate.

The 17 young women enrolled in the program are learning a variety of construction skills through classroom instruction and on-the-job training. I was skeptical at first. I'm married to a tool-obsessed, construction-happy husband, so I've been gophering tools for decades -- but using them? Jill promised me that after my day of work I would discover two things: that I enjoyed the work, and that I could do it. "The major thing we help women develop is confidence," Ritchie says. "Sometimes a woman is the only female on a job site, and she needs to be self-assured."

Aldo Cianfrini agrees. The chief administrative officer of the centre is also chair of the Skills Canada board of directors, and has taught all-women construction classes.

"The toughest thing for them is confidence, which grows faster if they have a female role model," Cianfrini says. "Jill provides that for them."

The program started in March of this year with 18 weeks of in-class training. Lead instructors are Ritchie, who has been a carpenter for more than 20 years and has taught at the college level for more than a decade, and John Neven, who teaches full-time at George Brown College and owns a renovation business. For the next 12 weeks, students shadowed experienced service technicians on participating builders' construction sites. They gained skills in carpentry, tiling, framing, drywalling and trimming. This month, the women graduate to 16 weeks of paid work placement.

Mattamy Homes is a major participant in the program, and it was at the company's Upper Glen Abbey West community in Oakville that I spent a morning shadowing student Danijela Kovac. She was teamed up with Mattamy customer service technician Carlo Galli.

Danijela took on the role of instructor as she taught me to use a finishing nail gun, caulking gun, hammer, chisel and mortar trowel. She was a patient teacher, and Carlo a knowledgeable mentor.

I helped Danijela caulk around a patio door, remove an interior marble threshold for replacement, and complete a number of other jobs.

I spent the afternoon at The Centre's fabulous Burlington location, with Jill Ritchie guiding me as I built my own toolbox. Stressing safety, she provided careful instruction each step of the way.

I drew a sketch of the intended item, figured out what sizes of lumber I'd need, set up and used power tools to cut and rout the components, and nailed together my masterpiece. I walked away with a tangible example that any limitations on my ability to do construction work were self imposed. Programs like these are being offered across Canada to encourage more young people and women to enter the skilled trades, and I say BRAVO for that. Jill Ritchie knows her stuff, and if she ever decides to change careers, I suggest the field of psychology.

Because of her challenge to me, I now look at women in construction in a whole new light. I enjoyed learning to do the work, and I did it well. Just don't tell my husband, OK?

(Dorothea Helms ( connects people and ideas.)

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