Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Statistics tell the painful truth about women’s employment

Daphne Hart
In 2009, for the first time, women outnumbered men in the Canadian workforce.

That’s according to Statistics Canada, which reported that women averaged 50.6 percent of Canada’s 14 million waged or salaried workers, in the first half of 2009.

So, if women are so under-represented in non-traditional occupations, where are they working?

The answers are not encouraging.

“Women still make up about 70 per cent of part-time workers and 60 per cent of minimum wage earners,” according to an article in The Toronto Star, citing the same StatsCan data. “Forty per cent are employed in precarious jobs that are generally poorly paid with little or no job security or benefits such as pensions. And the average full-time, full-year female worker still earns just 71.4 cents for every dollar earned by a man working similar hours, according to the latest Statistics Canada data from 2007.”

And it gets worse, according to research conducted by Dr. Gordon Cooke, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Business at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Dr. Cooke was co-investigator on an in-depth study of the same StatsCan information. He found that lower-waged earners are less likely to receive employer-provided training – and thus face additional challenges in advancing to higher-quality jobs. Within this lower-paid, under-educated group, Dr. Cooke found that females have less access to training than males; not due to discrimination, but because women are so over-represented in poor quality employment. The odds are simply stacked against them.

The statistics don’t lie. In fact, they tell a painful truth.

And a new booklet, published by Women in Resource Development Corporation (WRDC), offers some interesting provincial numbers. “Thinking Forward: A Practical Guide, Increasing Women’s Participation in the Industrial Workplace” offers a wealth of information and tools for industrial employers and subcontractors, aimed at enhancing gender diversity in the workplace. (There will be more about this booklet in a future blog entry.)

“Thinking Forward” offers some startling data, drawn from a number of sources. For example, 36 percent of all employed women in the province work in low-paying, traditional jobs, such as administrative (99 percent women), childcare and home support (94 percent), cashier (89 percent), clerical (75 percent) and retail sales (65 percent).

On the other hand, just two percent of all employed women in the province work in high-paying, non-traditional jobs. This would include transportation (eight percent women), contractors/supervisors (six percent), construction (four percent), heavy equipment operators (two percent), and machinists/metal forming (one percent). As well, women represent just three percent of apprentices in non-traditional trades.

Clearly, a preponderance of women are squeezed into a ghetto of low-paying jobs, that offer little opportunity for advancement.

However, this is not to suggest that women don’t have options. “Thinking Forward” also includes projections on employment opportunities in the near future, due to existing and upcoming industrial projects, such as Hebron, Vale-Long Harbour, IOC, Lower Churchill and others. Potential employment demand for these projects is expected to peak at 9,000 jobs, between 2014 and 2106. That’s a lot of opportunity.

Indeed, there may even be time for women to make major career shifts, take training in any number of trades or occupations, and seize these opportunities.

“The forecasted skilled labour shortages and the peak employment demand associated with the province’s large scale projects mean that opportunities exist for the women of our province,” said Daphne Hart, Industry Liaison with the WRDC. “Now is a great time to consider a career in a non-traditional occupation. Trades and technology careers are good options – they are well paid, often unionized, offer self-employment potential and high job satisfaction. It is important to ensure that the women of Newfoundland and Labrador, along with our men, are major beneficiaries of these projects.”

There are a number of programs and services out there, intended to assist and support women interested in entering non-traditional careers. Here are some of them:

Orientation to Trades and Technology (OTT)
A WRDC program that gives women practical experience in natural resource-based industries. It provides a safe and supportive environment for women to explore trades and technology training programs.

Try the Trades
A skilled trades mentoring program, offered by the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, that offers the opportunity for adults, age 18 to 39, to experience skilled trades. Participants spend up to four weeks on a construction site – safety equipment and training is provided – and receive a generous stipend for doing so.

Camp Glow
A fire fighting camp for women 17 and over, to learn about the fire service, develop confidence and explore a possible career change. Offered by the WRDC.

Trades Work for Me
Loads of information about careers in the construction trades offered by the Long Harbour Employers Association and the Resource Development Council. The project can provide financial support for apprenticeable and non-apprenticeable trades.

Fueling the Future: Women in Oil and Gas takes place March 8 and 9, 2011 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It is presented by the Harris Centre, of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Please visit the official conference site, for more information or to register.

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