Edmonton’s Women Building Futures wants to take empowering program across Canada

Women Building Futures graduates at the Sturgeon Refinery under construction near Edmonton. Image: Women Building Futures

Kathy Kimpton is the new CEO of Women Building Futures, an Edmonton-based organization dedicated to giving women a chance to find careers in the construction industry.

Women represent over 50 per cent of the working population in Alberta and their average income is $34,000. Women in poverty are, for the most part, not unemployed but underemployed. Most of the women taking the Women Building Futures program have college or university degrees and a wealth of experience and knowledge.

With fresh eyes, Kimpton is able to see where WBF has come from and where it needs to go next.

Kathy Kimpton, CEO Women Building Futures.

A quick history of the organization

In the early ‘90s, a group of social workers saw clients, typically females between their late-20s and early-40s that were “working poor.” They were working two or three minimum wage jobs but still on social assistance, trying to raise children (often by themselves) and unable to afford basic fine luxuries like home ownership or occasional trips.

This was juxtaposed with significant employment of men and international foreign workers in the construction industry. The social workers [thought] there’s got to be another solution; can we not train these women for jobs in the construction industry?

From there, Women Building Futures was born. We have a mission and mandate: help women become economically prosperous through employment in the construction industry. It’s not a handout; it’s a training program, and the nice thing about that is through this they develop a sense of resiliency and they never go back to living in poverty because they now have the knowledge and skills they need for gainful employment.

How things have changed

WBF used to be in the basement of a store; there was one lightbulb, and a couple chairs. Today we’ve grown up to a point where we have a fantastic training centre located in downtown Edmonton, and that training centre provides the services women might need to contemplate whether or not this is the career for them.

We do everything: outreach and awareness and a very extensive application process. We get the right women with the right attitude, aptitude and abilities and we train them in various different trades.

We partner with unions and colleges and we don’t duplicate anything that anyone else is doing. People often ask if the training we provide is offered at college. That’s apprentice training. What we’re doing is a pre-program. We teach women how to behave, survive, act and be successful in a man’s world, because we’re still only three per cent of the construction industry.

If you’re going in there as that much of a minority, you’re going to have to work harder, faster, and longer, so we teach them all of that. There is no other organization that provides all of those services from beginning to end.

We have residence [programs] as well. We’re able to provide all the services that somebody might need to contemplate such a significant career change.

Where WBF women end up

We’ve got a class that just graduated from our Journeywoman Start program [with] probably an average age of early-30s, over half of them have children, and out of the half that have children, three-quarters of them are single.

Within a couple of weeks of graduating they all started working, and their average increase of work income was 132 per cent. We have some that we trained for a program at the North West Redwater Refinery see a 202 per cent increase of income on day of hire. You just have to imagine the difference that makes to these women.

Looking to the future

The programming has been revised and developed and we’ve got a good reputation. Now we’re going to take this program across Canada and across industry. Right now we’re sitting at one province and pretty much one industry, and that’s not helping as many women as we could help.

We’re really open to any industry where there’s opportunities for women to have a significant increase in income; the mining industry for example. We’ve had conversations with other provinces like Ontario and BC that are interested in supporting our efforts.

About new partners Buildforce and the Alberta Construction Safety Association

One of the things that is very important to WBF, a part of our DNA that we instil in every graduate, is the culture of safety. We’re not experts in safety, [the ASCA has] experts in safety. They help us deliver the content, the programming, and develop the culture within our organization in our grads.

We can’t afford, as a non-profit entity, to go out there and guess about where we might be needed as we contemplate the expansion across Canada. We need to be very data-driven in all our approaches and to use our resources wisely.