It's going to take thousands of skilled workers to build LNG Canada's $40-billion liquefied natural gas project in northern B.C. – and it's betting on women to take it over the finish line.

This summer, the company announced plans to boost the number of tradeswomen who will build the processing plant in Kitimat to 10%, double the provincial average.

This isn’t an act of goodwill – it’s a necessity. Canada is facing a critical shortage of skilled tradespeople. With demand rising and retirements accelerating, Build Force Canada estimates the construction industry will need to fill more than 300,000 vacancies over the next decade.

Women are an obvious way to deepen the talent pool: they make up about 48% of the Canadian labour force, yet hold less than 4% of jobs in the skilled trades.

“This lack of diversity is not a women’s issue, it is a workplace issue. We are missing out on a talented demographic,” said Andy Calitz, CEO of LNG Canada. “We want women to know there is a place for them on our project.”

Closing the gap will require the public and private sector actively recruiting, training and mentoring women in the trades, after decades of targeting men.

In Kitimat, LNG Canada has set up a four-week training program in partnership with Women Building Futures, an organization that supports women in the trades. It will be offered multiple times over the next 18 months, with the first training session starting in November. It doesn’t guarantee participants a job, but it puts them on the right track, and on LNG’s dime. The cost of airfare, accommodations, tuition and safety equipment is covered by the company.

It’s a robust response to the skills gap – and LNG is not alone. Across Canada, there is a concerted effort to change the old ways. And it’s starting to pay off. According to Statistics Canada’s most recent Labour Force Survey, the number of women in the trades is slowly ticking up, from 3.7% a decade ago to 3.9% now.

In last year’s federal budget, the government announced $20 million over five years for the Apprenticeship Incentive Grant for Women, which helps to cover the costs of training as an apprenticeship in a Red Seal Trade where women are underrepresented, like plumbing or welding. The government also announced $10 million over three years to support projects that have proven effective in attracting women to the trades, such as mentoring programs.

Even though it will continue to take time, bringing more women into the trades is part of an essential restructuring Canada needs to undertake as we enter the 2020s. We can rise to the skills challenge by empowering people with the right skills, regardless of old perceptions. The same is true in other places where we’re seeing a talent shortage, such as in STEM.

The next generation doesn’t feel bound by the same restrictive gender roles that previously kept women out of certain fields, and with the right opportunities, they’ll line up to participate.

In some cases, quite literally.

This past spring, Skills Ontario’s annual Young Women’s Conference was flooded with applicants from elementary schools. Some 1,300 girls tried to register for only 1,000 spots, according to CEO Ian Howcroft. They tried to accommodate the young girls the following day, during the high school program.

“We have had wait lists before, but this was a record for the elementary program,” Howcroft said.

John Stackhouse is a nationally bestselling author and one of Canada's leading voices on innovation and economic disruption. He is senior vice-president in the office of the CEO at Royal Bank of Canada, leading the organization's research and thought leadership on economic, technological and social change. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail and editor of Report on Business. He is a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. His latest book is Planet Canada: How Our Expats Are Shaping the Future, which explores the untapped resource of the millions of Canadians who don't live here but exert their influence from afar.

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