Building confidence: YWCA Trade Journey reshaping the construction industry

March 8, 2024

If Canada is going to ramp up construction to solve the affordable housing crisis, it will need enough skilled workers to do so. 

Since 2015, the YWCA Trade Journey program in Saskatoon has been training women to work in construction through a 16-week program where participants explore a sample of trades, receive fitness training to increase strength, and build their workplace confidence. The program also provides personal protective equipment, helps participants get all necessary safety tickets, and places them as a site labourer at the end of the program. 

Pamela McKay, Manager Training Programs for YWCA Trade Journey, says one of the program's most important aspects is the confidence it builds.

“One of the things that makes our program successful is life skills and wellness,” Pamela said. “When a woman walks onto a job site, she needs to walk in confidently saying, ‘Yes, I belong here.’”

The program brings in guest speakers and arranges site tours so participants can understand the industry and the work involved.

“Some of these women would really like to work in construction, but they’ve never been on a construction site,” Pamela said. We do everything we can to help them understand exactly where they’re going and what they're doing. What does it mean to work as an apprentice?”

YWCA Trade Journey participants touring the YWCA Saskatoon expansion of its Crisis Shelter & Residence with Big Block Site Superintendent Dave Joseph. 

According to industry data reported by the Canadian Home Builders' Association, the residential construction industry needs more than 100,000 new workers by 2031. As the baby boomers retire from the trades, 20% of the sector’s labour force will be lost with them, and women are an employable cohort that’s only beginning to be tapped. 

Across the country, women are preparing to fill gaps in in-demand homebuilding professions, such as carpenters, electricians, framers, installers, helpers, and labourers.

In Saskatoon, the YWCA Trade Journey program qualifies the workers it produces by helping guide them into roles they’re interested in and ensuring they have some training before they start their first job.

“It’s been my experience that women who try to get into the trades really want to do it, so they’re going to try hard and work,” Pamela said.

Participants get hands-on experience, like learning how to use tools, and they get out of the classroom for learning experiences like site tours.

Big Block Construction is the development partner on the YWCA Saskatoon expansion of its Crisis Shelter & Residence and is working with the Trade Journey program to give participants tours of the downtown site and explore opportunities for work placement.

A YWCA Trade Journey cohort tours the YWCA Saskatoon expansion of its Crisis Shelter & Residence with Big Block Construction staff. 

Pamela says participants are excited about the job site tours because they see the work in action.

“It brings the reality to the participant,” Pamela said. “When you walk onto a job site, it allows them to imagine themselves there.”

With the YWCA extension currently under construction, participants attending the program will also see the project evolve.

Big Block’s experienced team members will be giving talks to program participants, and the company has hired River Janvier, a recent graduate of the program, as she begins her construction career. 

Companies that accept students from the YWCA Trade Journey program are eager to teach, Pamela said.

“They’re getting involved in the program because they want to see women succeed,” she said. “Big Block is on the same page as us — trying to lift people up, to make life better for people.”

The program wouldn’t exist without support from the local construction industry, Pamela says, and the YWCA is incredibly grateful for the support it receives.

“It’s our community partners that make our programs special,” she said. “If you don’t have the support from the community, if you can’t get people on the job site, if you can’t get them into learning experiences, everything stops. … It takes a village.”

Rapid housing to end gender-based violence

Pamela says another benefit of getting women into the housing and construction industry is that women help other women. Canada is facing a housing shortage, and the industry is looking for ways to provide more affordable housing, especially for people in need.

Pamela says there have been people in the YWCA Trade Journey program who have experienced homelessness. That experience will stay with them throughout their lives and careers, giving them a deeper connection to the work they’re doing if they move into housing construction.

The new wing at the YWCA will address an urgent need for safe and supportive housing in Saskatoon — but more needs to be done.

In December 2023, a coalition of feminist advocates joined to deliver a clear call to action to the federal government, outlining and demanding solutions to the gendered housing crisis.

“A briefing guide for Canada’s housing minister: An intersectional feminist housing agenda for Canada” includes 15 calls to action that intend to provide a roadmap for providing deeply affordable, non-market housing and developing an enhanced regulatory framework to protect those renting in the private market.

Led by the Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network, the National Indigenous Housing Network, and the Pan-Canadian Voice on Women’s Housing, the report notes that current housing policies' prevailing gender neutrality obscures and marginalizes the intersectional housing needs of women and gender-diverse people. 

Calls to action for within the next 1-5 years include:

  • Scale up the Rapid Housing Initiative to meet the level of housing need experienced by women and gender-diverse people with low incomes, developing mechanisms to track the impact of RHI investments.
  • Invest $4 billion in an Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy, delivered by NICHI, ensuring Indigenous women and gender-diverse people equitably benefit from all funds.
  • Ensure gender-based equity in funding for National Housing Strategy housing investments, prioritizing investment in affordable housing that genuinely addresses the depth of poverty experienced by women and gender-diverse people.
  • Monitor, evaluate, track, and report on the impacts and outcomes of federal housing investments, seeking to ensure intersectional gender equity and that federal investments go to those in greatest need.
  • Implement preferential mortgage insurance and interest rates to non-market housing providers who guarantee permanently affordable supply for women and gender-diverse people.
  • Invest in targeted skills- and capacity-building for women- and 2SLGBTQQIA-led housing providers to access capital grants and loans.

“If we want to make a significant change to end gender-based violence and abuse, housing is the answer,” said Sarah McIntosh, Executive Director of Atira Women’s Resource Society. “Housing represents safety for women, gender-diverse people and their families. No one can escape or avoid violence without a safe place to call home.”

More housing for women, by women

Women’s homelessness is vastly underestimated and often hidden. On any given day in Canada, 9,078 women and girls experience homelessness, and 1,000 women and their children are turned away from Violence Against Women shelters. 

Women are in urgent need of more housing, and you can take action today:

  • Invest in women's lives by supporting the YWCA Saskatoon through their HOPE Lives Here campaign.
  • Women interested in working in the home building industry with Big Block can send their cover letters and resumes to
  • Businesses, trades, or suppliers that are women-owned and interested in working on new housing construction projects with Big Block can contact
  • Housing providers that are women- or 2SLGBTQQIA-led, and developers of new housing for women in the Prairie provinces can reach our pre-development team to explore how Big Block’s services can support your next project:

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