New skilled trades camp reaches out to female students

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell

Laura Garcia never imagined herself as a welder until she stood there with a torch in her hand Thursday at St. Clair College.

While many of her classmates were hesitant around the intense flame and sparks produced from melding of hot metal, Garcia was fascinated in a way she never anticipated.

“I didn’t think I could do something like that,” said the 12-year-old Garcia, who attends Corpus Christi Middle School.

“I found it relaxing even though that flame could burn you. It would be something I would consider doing for a career.”

That sentiment is precisely the point of the weeklong Build A Dream camp.

A joint venture between the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board and St. Clair College, the camp introduces female students going into Grades 7 and 8 to a different skilled trade each day.

Also sponsoring the camp are WorkForce Windsor Essex and the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation.

In addition to welding, students have experienced the electrical field and carpentry.

The 18 girls in camp Thursday used computers to program the CNC machines to decorate the wooden boxes they’d made in carpentry class earlier in the week.

“Eighty per cent of the girls here said they had no idea what they’d like to do in the future,” said Susan Freidl, co-ordinator of Experiential Learning, OYAP and Dual Credits for the Catholic school board.

“This gives girls a chance to try these different trades and maybe open their mind to considering something outside the box.”

After holding a similar camp for high school students during the March Break, which was sponsored by Union Gas, Freidl got funding for a summer camp for younger students from the Ministry of Education.

“They’re looking for experiential learning opportunities, especially ones that are innovative and address under-serviced areas like women in the trades,” Freidl said.

The ministry officials like the concept of the camp enough that they’ve told Freidl they plan to use her report on the program in helping draft new policies on expanding co-op education in Ontario.

Nour Hachem, the college’s pre-apprenticeship manager and primary researcher, said the camps address a request they hear regularly from female students.

“We kept hearing I wish there was an opportunity to try out the skilled trades,” Hachem said. “That’s what this camp does.

“I think we can go younger still into Grades 5 and 6. All the research says starting to expose students to experiences at younger ages is positive.”

Other key goals are to showcase women already working in the field and breaking down stereotypes.

Jamie Campbell, a CNC machinist at A.V. Gauge, served as one of those mentors for Thursday’s CNC lessons.

“My message to these girls is this program can make a difference in your life,” Campbell said. “It made a difference in mine.

“Its really important women understand you can make a future for yourself. There are so many opportunities now.”

A few years ago, educators couldn’t get female students to break out of their comfort zones to try such camps. Now there are waiting lists or full compliments for such experiences.

“I never thought I could do any of this, but now I know I can,” said 13-year-old Samantha Clements, who attends St. Christopher Elementary School.

“It’s given more confidence about what I can do. I’d recommend it to anyone.

“Having this exposure to it, hearing the female mentors talk and changing their workplace for the better, I want to be part of something like that.”