Georgian instructor honoured for her work in the skilled trades
Dec. 2, 2022
Brandi Ferenc, an instructor in Georgian’s Gas Technician and Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning programs, was recently honoured for her work supporting women and youth in the skilled trades.
The Women’s Executive Network announced its 2022 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winners list – which includes professionals from a range of different industries – and Brandi won in the Skilled Trades category.
Brandi, a 313a Red Seal refrigeration mechanic/gas fitter 1 journeyperson at the Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, has shared her experience for the past 17 years to educate, mentor and inspire women about career paths in skilled trades.
How Brandi ended up in the skilled trades
Brandi grew up in a blue-collar family and loved listening to her father and grandfather tell stories about their work.
“This is a second career for me,” shares Brandi who worked in the hospitality industry for over a decade after graduating from university. “Women weren’t encouraged to go into the skilled trades when I was in high school, so I ended up going to university for business and advertising. I realized I wasn’t happy working in an office at a desk every day and I wanted something that was different. I enjoyed being active and working with my hands and I also wanted a career path that wouldn’t be replaced with technology.”
At 32 Brandi went back to school to take a Women in Skilled Trades (WIST) pre-apprentice program to get her foot in the door. She then found an employer and completed a five-year apprenticeship to become a Red Seal 313a journeyperson.
“I turn 50 this month and I haven’t looked back!” says Brandi. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
The importance of mentoring women
Brandi works part-time as a WIST mentor with Support Ontario Youth, an organization that supports apprentices, employers and all key people in the skilled trades industry by streamlining and simplifying the apprenticeship journey. She does a lot of one-on-one mentoring with women including help with their resumés, interview skills and tutoring.
“Once they’ve secured a job, I continue to lend myself as a resource to help them navigate their careers,” says Brandi. “I’ve been, and still am, in their shoes so I know firsthand that it’s a unique and challenging experience being a woman in skilled trades. I can draw from my experience to provide advice or guidance during a crisis, and support is key! Providing coaching and mentoring to someone to whom they can relate, provides a safe and trusted perspective.”
Brandi adds that she wouldn’t have made it through her apprenticeship without the support of other women in the trades.
“I had one woman who really made a difference in keeping me going during my apprenticeship,” says Brandi. “Now there’s a big social network of us in the industry and it’s so valuable to have that sounding board to ask questions. We’re still a minority on most job sites. And, if you’ve had a bad day, it’s just nice to have someone to talk to about it.”
Mentorship is also key to helping people through their apprenticeships and keeping women in the trades long term notes Brandi, particularly as there’s still a stigma around the skilled trades as a viable career path for women.
Educating youth about the skilled trades
Brandi does a lot of work educating young people that the skilled trades are a great option after high school, especially if they enjoy working with their hands.
“Currently, many high school students aren’t aware of the opportunities available to them in the skilled trades,” says Brandi. “So by educating young women on the benefits of pursuing a career in the skilled trades, as well as the vast options available to them, we’ll see more women in the field. Let’s put people who actually enjoy what they’re doing into these careers and fill the gaps in the labour market.”
Brandi says Georgian is doing a great job promoting the skilled trades to women and young people too.
“I took part in the Skills Trades and Technology information event at the college on Nov. 5 in partnership with Skills Ontario and talked to several local students from Grades 7 and 8 about going into the skilled trades. I’d like to do more work with Georgian developing women in skilled trades programs where I can use my hands-on experience in this industry to teach the next generation of women how to be successful.”
Changing the landscape of skilled trades
Brandi says that while the jobs themselves don’t have a gender, women still represent a small percentage in the trades. In her trade, only 0.4 per cent in Ontario are female – a figure that hasn’t changed much since 2016. And while there’s less barriers now, which signals progress is happening, it can still seem overwhelming if you’re the only one on site.
But Brandi says there are many good reasons for women to go into the skilled trades.
Brandi taught part-time at Georgian in 2015 but found it a bit difficult with her full-time job at the time. When she started working in-house at Southlake Hospital it allowed her to come back to teaching during the pandemic. She was thrilled to see a female in her class that first semester.
“It was exciting to see there were now women in the program as I didn’t have any females in my classes when I taught at Georgian before,” says Brandi. Since my return we’ve had female students in both the full- and part-time Gas Technician program and the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning program every semester, which is proof the landscape is changing.”
Employers are looking for skilled trades grads
Brandi emphasizes the industry wants Georgian graduates.
“All the graduates from our last Gas Technician program who got their licence were hired,” she says. “Anyone who wanted a job, got a job. There’s a real need for workers in the industry right now.”