Carpenter returns to where career started to promote trades

Carpenter returns to where career started to promote trades

Tanya Foubert

Rocky Mountaineer

August 21, 2014

Crystal Bowen got her start in becoming a carpenter while working at the Lake Louise Ski Hill and recently she returned to the valley as a representative of a program meant to promote women entering trade work.

While in Banff to meet with various industry stakeholders, Bowen said she also had a chance to revisit the ski hill and thank one of her mentors for putting her on this life course.

“I came out here like everyone, to visit someone or something and I just never left,” she said. “Someone helped me to become a snowmaker and when spring came around they found out I had an environmental background, so they got me to help develop the environmental department. With that, I worked with millwrights and what have you and then on my days off I worked with the construction trades and I learned how to operate all kinds of things.

“There are so many transferrable skills you learn and it wasn’t honestly until I moved back to northern Alberta and the Edmonton area that I signed my apprenticeship, but the jobs I got to do here were incredible.”

Once a union member in 2009, she started working with others to establish a women’s committee for the provincial carpenter’s union and eventually met the founder of Journeyman, Jamie McMillan.

“She originally had this idea on her own and she met with the Canadian building trades and this is something we really need,” Bowen said. “The support we have got to grow the program nationally and involve all 14 affiliated unions is just incredible.”

Journeyman is now a national Canadian Building Trades Unions program that promotes, supports and mentors women in unionized skilled construction trades. The goal is to encourage more women to enter trades and eliminate the misconception it is a career path for men only.

The program is gaining momentum. The meeting in Banff recently with the Alberta Council of Turnaround Industry Maintenance Stakeholders saw nine of Journeyman’s 11 representatives present for the first time outside of a Canadian Building Trades function. After the meeting, the organization received a $100,000 cheque from ACTIMS to support the program.

“ACTIMS stakeholders’ goal is to ensure that skilled, qualified, experienced, professional Canadian trades people are provided the first opportunity for employment during plant maintenance turnarounds in Alberta,” said ACTIMS executive director Shabbir Hakim in a press release. “As the world of heavy industrial construction and maintenance becomes more accommodating, by supporting the Building Trades program Journeyman, it allows ACTIMS to encourage more Canadian women to consider taking up a career in the construction/maintenance trades and in turn help alleviate the skills shortages that Alberta and Canada are experiencing.”

Bowen also wants to promote trades as a career path for men as well, those who might also be discouraged from pursuing education and work in those fields.

“One thing I advocate is the fact … these issues aren’t about women, most of them, they are about inclusiveness, so there are a lot of men experiencing the same challenges we are and it is a program for both men and women,” she said. “The reason women do play a large part of it and our representatives are women, is that you can’t be what you don’t see. We are trying to be change makers so it becomes a more inclusive culture.”

Bowen said it was the attitude at Lake Louise to be inclusive and hire women for jobs traditionally relegated to men that got her into her career.

“That is one thing about the Lake Louise ski area that I love, the fact the first female tradeswoman I ever saw worked at that ski area and was a heavy duty mechanic,” she said, adding even now the ski hill has three to four tradeswomen on staff as journeymen and apprentices. “They have always been inclusive in that regard in that if you can do the job, they will give you the opportunity … that is the attitude that got me into the trade.

“I was discouraged my whole life not to do this stuff and it turns out I am very good at it.”

Bowen said she also wants to challenge the concept that trades are a traditional ladder structure, like when her own grandfather became a carpenter. She said the industry today is a jungle gym and there are many options for men and women that provide flexibility.

“I tell them there are so many options in what direction you want to take, there are so many different ways you can go about your career and there are so many different parts of the industry with different requirements in terms of time management,” she said. “It is your journey; it is up to you to make it what you want it to be – it is that easy.”

Journeyman launched officially in May and has representatives, like Bowen, in a variety of trades who have diverse backgrounds, stories and experiences. In Canada, women represent four per cent of the construction trade workforce. It is also an industry facing skilled labour shortages, and BuildForce Canada estimates that 100,000 new workers will need to be recruited – in addition to the natural attrition caused by retirements – from outside the construction industry between 2013 and 2021 to help compensate for this gap.

Ontario ironworker and foreman McMillan said it is an opportunity for women seeking secure, well-paid and fulfilling employment in challenging careers.

“The more we (at Journeyman) educate young women and men through mentorship, the more they will see the many incredible career paths they can pursue in the skilled trades. There are 14 affiliated Building Trades unions in Canada and over 60 apprenticeships within them, journeyman wages that range from $35 to $45 per hour, and a range of work from coast to coast. It sells itself,” said McMillan.

Go to for more information on the program.