Ask Ashley Jones what she thinks about the Orientation to Trades and Technology Program (OTT) at College of the North Atlantic and she’ll give you a quick answer.
“It was the best thing ever. It totally made up my mind, what I wanted to do. ... I’ve wanted to do this since I was 15,” said Jones.
Jones spoke to The Telegram while standing in one of the workshops in CONA’s Prince Philip Drive Campus. The St. John’s woman had just finished giving a demonstration of some of her technical skills by disassembling part of an car engine for a group of media, CONA faculty and oil company representatives.
She came out of it a bit red-faced from all the attention focused on her, but declared afterward she was hopeful her demonstration might lead other women down the same path she took, into a skilled trade.
“I was told, ‘You’re a girl. You shouldn’t do it.’ And I listened to them. I shouldn’t have,” said Jones.
And thanks to some cash from the Hebron and Hibernia projects, more women from this province will get that chance.
On Monday the two oil projects each donated $100,000 to a new scholarship fund designed to encourage young women to pursue careers in skilled trades.
The scholarship is designed to help women who’ve recently graduated from high school, so it’s open to anyone between the ages of 17 and 22. There are 20 grants available. Recipients will be enrolled in a new variation of the OTT program called Techsploration Orientation to Trades and Technology Program (TOTT).
The TOTT is 13 weeks long and gives women a chance to try their hands at several trades, the idea being that exposure to different career options will help participants find a future in the skilled trades.
Hopefully, those young women will find a place with either Hibernia or Hebron, said Jamie Long, president of Hibernia Management and Development Co. Ltd.
“Hibernia believes that if we promote trades and technology occupations in the natural resources sector to women, we will all benefit from a larger and more diverse workplace,” said Long.
Dave McCurdy, technical manager with the Hebron Project, concurred.
“This fund is another example of the commitment that the Hebron Project has made to promotion of diversity. ExxonMobil Canada and all our project co-ventures ... feel that diversity in the workforce gives us a competitive advantage,” said McCurdy.
Programs like OTT and TOTT go a long way towards those goals, said Mary Clarke, director of the Women in Resource Development Corp., which administers both programs.
“There’s strength in numbers. You always hear that,” said Clarke.
“If you get one or two girls in a class of guys, sometimes they feel intimidated. A lot of times they don’t give it their best shot because they’re shy or they just feel that they’re not comfortable with it. But there’s a different dynamic when there’s a bunch of women getting together and working at something. It’s a whole different ball game and they really enjoy it,” she said.
Changes to workplace dynamics, employer attitudes, labour laws, childcare and society in general, mean that women have more chances than ever in skilled trades. But the situation is far from perfect, she added.
“We’re making gains,” she said. “It might be at a snail’s pace, but we’re getting there.”
Jones graduated from OTT in July of 2011 and is loving every moment she spends studying to be an automotive service technician.