Opening doors and minds

Women in Technology and Trades and Techsploration are working together to boost female participation in in-demand fields

Helping girls and women find their way to careers in technology and trades is the mission of Mohawk College’s Women in Technology and Trades network (WiTT) and that effort is being accelerated by a partnership with Techsploration. 

Based in Nova Scotia, Techsploration has been promoting science, engineering, trades and technology career paths to girls and women for more than 20 years. 

“We have a fairly intensive four-phase program model that targets young women in grades nine through 12,” said Emily Boucher, Techsploration’s Interim Executive Director. 

“The aim of our program is really to encourage career exploration in these fields where women are significantly under-represented in in-demand fields. We do this through hands on mentor-led programming.” 

When the organization set its sights on expanding beyond Nova Scotia, Mohawk College’s strength in the skilled trades and technology made it the perfect partner, says Boucher. 

She said the partners perfectly complement one another: Techsploration builds career awareness and Mohawk is the pathway to gain the skills, knowledge and experience to land a job in the field. 

WiTT provides the deep connections to industry that opens doors to Mohawk graduates, along with mentoring and coaching for young women. 

“Through the partnership between Techsploration and Mohawk we are together committed to really introducing people to careers they might not have thought of,” said Rebecca Isowa, Program Manager, Technology & Trades, Continuing Education and a co-chair of WiTT. 

“This is just one more way of making that introduction possible.” 

That’s what we’re pushing for, we want it to become a socially normal thing for women to consider all of the jobs in trades and technology

Working with Techsploration allows Mohawk to leverage its own programming and mentorship network, says Elizabeth Martin, Associate Dean of Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology. 

Along with opening pathways into well-paying and secure careers, WiTT is working at filling a skills gap that is only growing more acute. 

“We need to look at novel ways to help expand the number of people who are aware of these great jobs that are available.” 

COVID-19 forced WiTT and Techsploration to pivot planned in-person events into virtual offerings. On March 8, 2021, Techsploration launched Techsploration Career Quest, an online event sponsored by Mohawk College and Shopify. The one-day session, on International Women’s Day, introduced 122 girls from Ontario high schools to 16 mentors from careers in technology and trades. The group participated in unique workshops Coding, Gummy Bear DNA and My First Motor Build and ended the day virtually collaborating on presentations that addressed “How to encourage more girls and women into technology and trades fields.” 

The event was a huge success, however sometimes showcasing technology and skilled trades in a two-dimensional format can be a challenge, says Boucher. 

Mohawk’s expertise in virtual reality and augmented reality has stepped up to deliver an on-site experience. 

“We’ve been working with the fabulous Mohawk College team on developing a virtual reality component to our programming. This is entirely new for us and we are incredibly excited. It has completely changed our traditional model.” 

Through virtual and augmented reality, students will be able to use their cellphones to go to work with mentors. That’s a “game.changer,” said Boucher. 

The mentorship and guidance of women working in these fields is still at the heart of the program, says Martin, but digital allows a level of engagement that can reach more people. 

“We’re not aware of any other model like this that exists right now. We are creating this collaborative AVR approach to help students be exposed to industry and help industry provide mentorship directly to young women.” 

Mohawk’s WiTT, which formed as a cross-College commitment in 2018, also collaborates with other ecosystem community organizations including the YWCA Hamilton to bring skilled trades and technology awareness to clients needing retraining. 

RBC has invested a three-year grant into WiTT to support its programming and initiatives, along with scholarships and bursaries. 

WiTT’s work also includes symposiums and in-demand technology presentations from female faculty who share their experience and expertise. The more women who find their way to trades and tech jobs, the more women will feel welcome in them, says Martin. 

“That’s what we’re pushing for, we want it to become a socially normal thing for women to consider all of the jobs in trades and technology,” she said. “So this is really opening new doors and new ways of thinking.”

In the Photo: Elizabeth Martin, Associate Dean, Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology; Rebecca Isowa, Program Manager, Technology & Trades, Continuing Education

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