On-Site Magazine

Jill of All Trades provides hands-on experience

By Adam Freill   

Construction Skills Development Women in Construction

Conestoga College event allows young women to experience a variety of trades that can lead to career opportunities.

Female high school students gain exposure to career opportunities in the skilled trades during the Jill of All Trades event. (Photo courtesy of Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning)

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

The day-long event to inspire young women in Grades 9 to 12 while promoting careers in the skilled trades. The event attracted students from 11 school boards in southwestern Ontario, providing them with a chance to try their hands at some 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 in 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,” said Rennehan. “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, with Canada in need of more than 167,000 new apprentices to keep pace. According to Statistics Canada, women account for 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, which provided her with experience in carpentry, before she tried her hand at plumbing, and then finally found her passion in HVAC. With the training and experience under her belt, Ferenc founded the 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.”

Through gender-specific programming and mentoring opportunities like Jill of All Trades, Conestoga college is assisting and encouraging women to pursue careers in under-represented and non-traditional occupations. Its 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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