Female high school students from Toronto took part in Build A Dream’s Career Discovery Expo April 28. Screenshot by Paula Ducepec

Build A Dream and the girls will come

By  Paula Ducepec, Youth Speak News
  • May 4, 2022

Female students in Grades 7 through 12 were introduced to the world of trades as a future option at an expo in Toronto April 28.

Build A Dream hosted a virtual Career Discovery Expo for girls completing Grade 7-12 for both the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the Toronto District School Board. The education consultancy non-profit assembled a panel of speakers to introduce to students the world of apprenticeships, internships and other viable career options outside of the traditional college and university career pathways.

The virtual event gave students and their guardians a forum to discover opportunities accessible even in high school, allowed them to hear from women in the trades who shared their career journeys and learned trade and company secrets that could help the students gain a competitive edge. 

Throughout the expo, student attendees explored careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), skilled trades, emergency response, entrepreneurship and leadership.

Small online break-out rooms were offered for students interested in more direct interactions with professionals working in construction, transportation, autobody repair and the Canadian Armed Forces, among others.

Shannon McLeod, the TDSB’s Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) Coordinator, underscored the high value of this expo.

“You are always going to be needed. The jobs in the skill trade are critical,” said McLeod. “They are the backbone of society. We need people who can keep our lights on, who can keep our water running, to fix our vehicles, like all the things that keeps our society running as we’re accustomed to. Throughout the pandemic, we saw that these jobs were essential. And it’s really awesome when you look around and you can see what you have done.” 

In addition to the expo aiming to inspire young girls to explore the skilled trades, it also encourages young ladies interested in these professions to make a long-term investment.

For Maddie Stark, a panelist and first-year electrical apprentice, her experience with her apprenticeship has been nothing short of “amazing.”

“I feel like there is quite a stigma around being a woman in the trades, but I’ve had nothing but positive experience,” said Stark. “Every day I go to work and I am learning something new or working with different people, different locations — and just to have that kind of excitement going into work every day, it has been the most amazing year of my life.”

One of the panelists, Hilary Noack, is an auto body repair technician who had her share of discrimination and discouragement for being a woman in the skilled trades. In 2015, Noack opened her own shop — INK N IRON Automotive LTD — completely owned and operated by women. For her, nothing tops building something with your own two hands.

Ever since high school, Noack knew that she wanted to have her own shop but she thought about what could make her shop different from other shops.

“At the same time, I started meeting more women in this industry… and just kind of hearing their stories of like, ‘No one would hire me, so I just gave up on this career and got another job.’ I never had that but that inspired me to open a shop that was completely women owned and operated,” she said. 

Stories like that of Noack’s mirrors the story of many women who are discouraged to join the skilled trades. The expo organizers explained that Build a Dream’s remedy to this problem is advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives to ensure equitable opportunities for everyone to succeed.

(Ducepec, 24, is a Bachelor of Science graduate of the University of Toronto.)

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