STELLARTON – Sawdust-covered women are quite common at the Nova Scotia Community College Pictou Campus, but this is the first year they outnumber the men.
Female enrolment is up this year for the cabinetmaking program at NSCC. From left are Charlene Conrad, Michele Stirling, Ashley Cooper, Cassie Book, Rose Jones and Maggie Scott. AMANDA JESS – THE NEWS
Eight women and seven men are enrolled in the cabinetmaking program in Stellarton.
“It’s a good job for women to get into if they like to work with their hands,” faculty member Wayne MacDonald says.
He remembers one female student from 15 years ago who was having a lot of trouble escaping sexism and the false assumption that women can’t work in trades. He says that attitude is a thing of the past now.
MacDonald says the industry is thriving and many female graduates often share their success stories with him, including one who is considered the cabinet expert at her job in Halifax.
Another one of his graduates went on to start her own business and was invited to the Toronto International Film Festival to show off her work as part of one of their gifting lounges. Instead of gift bags, they offer full rooms of goodies for the celebrities who attend the festival.
The program typically accepts 16 students and MacDonald is pretty sure all of last year’s are already employed.
“When they leave here, they have the skills to get a variety of jobs.”
The program is a stepping stone for many avenues of woodworking. Many students go on to make cabinets, but some other options include making furniture and shipbuilding.
For Cassie Book, it offers refuge from the stresses of customer service.
She’s a hands-on person and says she’s never been interested in office work. She wants to be able to work for herself, so she decided to give the one-year program a try.
“I grew up around tools,” she says of why the program attracted her. She notes it requires more attention to detail and that could be a reason why females like it.
“It attracts more women than carpentry. It’s almost kind of like art.”
Many of the women entering the program have similar reasons.
Generally, they were ready for changes from their previous jobs and wanted to be in control of their work.
Maggie Scott was one of those people. She needed an escape and cabinetmaking supplies that.
“It’s weird to think of a wood shop as a quiet place,” she says, explaining that it’s an internal process that allows her to relax.
Michele Stirling loves the feeling of knowing she made something she can use.
She also says woodworking serves as a connection to the past.
“You feel like you’re doing something people did hundreds of years ago.”
It’s hard to know what prompted this years’ shift in enrolment, but many of the women believe it’s due to an increase in the value of trades.
Book says the cost of university could be driving more women away from that road into much cheaper options.
MacDonald believes it could be due to the job opportunities the Maritimes have to offer.
At a time when people are heading out west to find work, accreditation in woodworking allow them to stick around, especially with the focus on shipbuilding in the province right now.
MacDonald says he has four or five graduates working on yachts.
This year’s female and male cabinetmaking students will learn about their materials, how to use hand and power tools, blueprinting, computer training, finishing techniques, shop safety and communication tools to help them better find a job.
On Twitter: @NGNewsAmanda