October 29, 2012

Manitoba revamps trades training program for women


Apprentice electrician Cortney Olson with foreman Danny Hillyer are outside a construction site in downtown Winnipeg.

Cortney Olson is trading up to her future. The 29-year-old from Warren, Manitoba, just northwest of Winnipeg, is pursuing a career as an electrician with the help of an Employment Manitoba program.

Trade Up To Your Future intends to help more women get into the trades.

“I have always preferred active work,” said Olson, who is currently working for McCaine Electric at the site of the former main Canada Post building in downtown Winnipeg.

The structure is being converted into the new Winnipeg police Service headquarters. 

“I don’t like sitting behind a desk,” she said. “I grew up on a farm and have worked at fishing lodges and other jobs like that.”

She learned about Trade Up to Your Future from other girls she knows, who are working in the trades in Winnipeg. 

“I gained a lot of knowledge and confidence through Trade Up to Your Future’s training program,” Olson said. 

 While the employment program has been around for a while, last fall, the program was revamped to make it more efficient, said Crystal Chercoe, the director of strategic initiatives and operational planning for Manitoba Entrepreneurship, Training and Trade.

 “In the previous iteration, we used to buy a block of seats at a Winnipeg technical school for pre-employment programming students,” Chercoe said. 

“That wasn’t the most effective way to do it if we weren’t able to recruit enough students. Now, we tailor the program to the individual student based on training needs, the labour market and availability of funds.”

She added that with such a low overall unemployment rate in Manitoba, construction firms and other trades companies are having difficulty attracting and retaining skilled workers, which leads to an opportunity to bring more women into non-traditional trades.

Increasing the number of women in the trades is also a key priority for Apprenticeship Manitoba which, along with Employment Manitoba, is part of the Workforce Development and Income Support division.

The branches do their best to integrate services and priorities to meet the needs of both individual clients and the local labour market.

There are a number of pathways to be eligible for the Trade Up to Your Future program.

Women must have a current or past Employment Insurance claim. They can also be about to lose their job or be in receipt of Employment or Income Assistance.

Women, who currently are working, but have low skills, can also apply.

The program provides classroom and hands-on training, employment skills upgrades, ongoing support, help finding work and financial assistance for those who qualify.

One on one counselling is available to help applicants to assess their training needs and develop a personal employment plan.

Applicants are eligible for financial support during the run of the program – usually a school year from September through June. 

Students are expected to contribute to the training costs – with Student Aid if need be.

Olson received a housing allowance under the program so that she didn’t have to commute to Winnipeg every day from her home in Warren, while attending school.

She reported that through her pre-employment program, she was able to accumulate 900 hours toward her Level One apprenticeship accreditation. 

The remaining 900 hours to meet the 1,800 hour level one baseline will be accumulated through her work with McCaine Electric. 

She plans to return to school this winter to work toward her Level Two accreditation.

She said that on the worksite, everyone is treating her very well. 

“I am just one of the guys,” she added.

“I really appreciate having a union job with full benefits and a pension.”

For more information about Trade Up to Your Future call 945-0575 or 1-866-332-5077 or visit Employment Manitoba online at

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