Women in trades are becoming increasingly common as gender is becoming less of a barrier for many women when it comes to choosing a career.
Ashley Duncan is a journeyman mechanical pipe insulator located in Vancouver, BC. She works with the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers (IAHFIAW 118). As a mechanical pipe insulator, she wraps piping and HVAC systems with various insulation materials in commercial and industrial construction projects. Pipe insulation is required so the pipes maintain their temperature, whether it is hot or cold.
“If you’re doing commercial work you’re usually doing residential buildings,” said Duncan. “So you would be doing domestic piping for your sinks and toilets. If you’re doing a hospital or something you would be doing [things like] chilled water and steam piping. If you’re working at a gas plant you would be doing industrial work, like hot high-pressure pipelines.”
Duncan began her mechanical pipe insulator apprenticeship in 2010, when she was 20. Since then she has worked with several companies on many projects. She is currently working for a company called AARC West Mechanical Insulation. She got into mechanical pipe insulation through her father, who is a plumber.
“[My father] was working alongside some pipe insulators at a job site and they were hiring,” said Duncan. “So he gave me a phone number and said, ‘Try it out, see how you like it.’ I tried it out and I liked it, so I stuck with it.”
Some of the construction projects that she provided pipe insulation for include the Women and Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, the Uptown Towers of Vancouver, and the University of British Columbia Biological Sciences Building. She is currently working at the Richmond General Hospital, and Vancouver College, a private school.
Duncan says being a woman working in the trades has not posed any gender-related difficulties for her.
“Every trade is, of course, different but the company that I’m with and the union that I have has always been really good about hiring women, being non-discriminatory against genders and things like that,” said Duncan. “I’ve been really lucky in the trade that I’ve been in. There are lots [of trades] that have like two women in its entire trade union.”
Duncan is the Joint Health and Safety Committee representative for her company. She is also the Secretary/Treasurer on Build TogetHER BC’s executive board. Build TogetHER is a group that promotes women in trades. Build TogetHER is part of an umbrella organization called BC Building Trades, which encompasses all unionized building trades in BC.
Some of the things Duncan does with Build TogetHER include going to schools and events to talk to certain audiences, mostly women of different ages, about beginning a career in trades, and mentoring young people who wish to begin working in trades.
Members of Build TogetHER also lobby for different purposes, including receiving grants from the government and gaining certain benefits as trade workers. The organization has also been raising money for the recovery of Fort McMurray after the recent wildfires there that ravaged 5,895 square kilometres of buildings and forest.
Duncan said there are only about 30-40 women out of around 480 total workers in her trade union, IAHFIAW 118. Maybe one day the number of women in trades can match the number of men.