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Vancouver Island woman has battled sexism, adversity in building welding career

Despite numbers increasing, tradeswomen numbers still relatively low.
Now a welder, Alicia Johnstone has been pursuing a career in trades since the age of 20. However, only four per cent of welders across Canada were female, according to 2022 statistics. Photo courtesy Alicia Johnstone/Instagram

Contrary to what some may think, there are some women, like welder Alicia Johnstone, who like the idea of getting their hands dirty and fixing things.

“I used to love helping my father with tools growing up,” says Alicia Johnstone, who has dabbled in trades as she turned 20. “He showed me so much and I always had the attitude to know how to do everything, rather than relying on someone else.”

Initially finding a job within a mine, her work ethic allowed her to land new positions around the mine, landing a job as a millwright apprentice. Born in Campbell River, she eventually moved back to town and pursued a career in welding.

READ MORE: Supply of skilled tradespeople can’t keep up to Vancouver Island construction boom

“I was curious in how to do it,” said Johnstone. “I found I loved the environment around steel. It was rewarding both mentally and physically.”

Johnstone is a rare breed: a woman who is attracted to the skilled trades. Although the numbers are growing in recent years, it is still low. According to Statistics Canada’s data about growth in the construction trades, from 2015 to 2019, the numbers are: bricklayer, one per cent; carpenter, four per cent; electrician, three per cent; plumber, two per cent; and welder. According to the Canadian Welder Bureau’s annual welding industry report in 2022, out of the 80,900 welders across Canada, only four per cent were female.

However, the leaders of women in skilled trades among provinces in Canada were Alberta, at 6.8 per cent, and British Columbia, at 6.4 per cent.

Johnstone said that there has been some doubters of her skill over her time as a welder, most of the comments directed simply because she was a female.

“When someone made comments about me, I simply assumed they didn’t know better,” said Johnstone. “Trying to prove that I belong in this industry is to stay strong mentally, because I am a woman. But that shouldn’t matter.”

She says that a push for women in trades should come from a further push of equality. She says there are benefits to trades and flexibility she probably couldn’t get anywhere else.

“The cost of living is so high, trades tend to have a more livable wage,” said Johnstone. “There are a lot more opportunities for advancement in certain fields as well.”

Edward Hitchins

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