Toolkit Trailblazers

MWC representatives are role models for young girls considering their career options

by Twila Driedger

Check out the video for Unlocking the Toolkit at

Jennifer Cooper is embracing the opportunity to be a role model to girls considering a career in construction.

“When I was growing up, I never had any female role models in the trades,” explains Cooper, whose father was an electrician and exposed her to the trades at an early age. Cooper followed in his path, obtaining her electrical journeyperson ticket and now works as an electrical designer for SMS Engineering. “I think it’s great for the girls to see women working in construction and it’s kind of cool to be a role model to girls.”

Cooper, along with her fellow tradeswomen participated in the fourth-annual Unlocking the Toolkit Thursday, April 25, at Winnipeg Construction Association’s Construction Education Centre.

Hosted by Manitoba Women in Construction (MWC) and Manitoba Status of Women, this one-day event provided Grades 5 and 6 female students from Manitoba schools with the opportunity to explore careers in the trades, technology and science fields through interactive demonstrations. The event featured eight hands-on activities facilitated by tradeswomen in areas including welding, soldering and plumbing, masonry, heavy equipment, carpentry, rebar, electrical and virtual reality.

“If I had this opportunity when I was in Grades 5 and 6, it would have been so much easier for me to choose my profession, which was carpentry,” says Carla Larabie, event organizer and MWC Trades Outreach Coordinator. “I would have had the courage to choose a career in construction much sooner than I did.”

Now the Quality Assurance Manager for Concord Projects Ltd., Larabie is passionate about promoting skilled trades in construction to a younger generation – girls like Emily and Kaitlyn, Grade 6 students from Centennial School in Selkirk.

“My dad works in the trades, so I thought if I came here, I could see the kinds of things that he does,” Emily explains.

“I don’t really know what I’m going to do when I’m older, so I thought it would be kind of cool to come and figure it out,” adds Kaitlyn. “I really like the game development and I thought the electrical station was pretty cool too – we made a battery out of lemons.”

At the masonry station, Nina Widmer, Manitoba’s only female bricklayer, was teaching the different elements of bricklaying, including how to butter a brick, throw mortar and lay a brick to the line. Over the course of the day, students created a brick wall.

And a few feet over at the heavy equipment station, students were climbing up on a small mechanical digger replica and attempting to pick up and drop sand with its bucket.

Carla Mroz, Career Coordinator for Lord Selkirk School Division, brought 30 students from three different schools who expressed interest in learning more about trades, technology and sciences.

“We really wanted to give our younger girls the chance to learn more about construction, the trades and all the career opportunities the industry has for them that they wouldn’t otherwise see,” explains Mroz.

Status of Women studies reveal the best time to introduce girls to the various opportunities available to them is in Grades 5 and 6. With recent industry reports of a looming skilled labour shortage, the time to educate underrepresented groups on the prospects in the construction industry is now.

“There will be a lot of conversation after between the teachers, students and hopefully their parents – bringing that knowledge home in order to explore some of these options,” Mroz adds.

The Honourable Rochelle Squires, Minister of Sustainable Development, Minister responsible for Francophone Affairs and Minister responsible for the Status of Women, was on hand to kick off the event and recognize MWC representatives – calling them trailblazers for sharing their skills and telling their stories.

“They are heroes and mentors and role models to many, many women in our community. And they’re pioneers in their own right,” explains Squires. “Some of them have probably worked in fields where they have found themselves the only girl around the table, or the only girl on the construction site or the only girl involved in the project. You know what they’re doing when they get in those situations? They stand firm, they own that place because they’re there on their own merit and they’re making room for all of you.”

According to Larabie, as industry representatives, sharing knowledge and experiences with the younger generation is life-changing.

“The impact is huge,” Larabie says. “They get to show their skills, they love the chance to give back and pave the trail for the girls, knowing they’ve made a difference.”

A special thanks to The Province of Manitoba, the many volunteers and all the sponsors who helped make the event a huge success.