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Women Building Futures: Training Local Women for Local Work

Angela Smith
BY Angela Smith
(1 Vote)

From oil and gas to infrastructure, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) runs on the passion and hard work of the people who pursue the in-demand careers that support our thriving industries. Women are playing an important role in that workforce. Women Building Futures works with women and employers in Fort McMurray and the region.

That’s the key reason why Women Building Futures (WBF), an organization that empowers women to enter and succeed in careers where they have been underrepresented, has become a part of our community. Over the last 20 years, WBF has offered training and services through their Training Centre located in downtown Edmonton. WBF is now engaging with local women and organizations right here in the RMWB to make sure we have the workforce needed now and in the future.

WBF’s Fort McMurray Office

In April 2017, WBF opened its first regional office, and Fort McMurray was the obvious choice. “With abundant opportunities for women, aligned partnerships with industry and a strong commitment to local hiring and initiatives, we felt it was important to establish a presence that would show our commitment to the region and to our partners who have key locations in Fort McMurray,” says Jacqueline Andersen, Director of Stakeholder Relations. “A long-term partner of ours, the Alberta Construction Safety Association (ACSA) literally opened their doors to us – our office is located in the ACSA office on Gregoire Drive.”

WBF has always valued its close ties to the Fort McMurray area and sees a lot of interest from both women and industry in the area.

“I think the interest we see from women here is because they’re more familiar with the work that’s available. They’re more likely to know what the work involves and the opportunity it offers, so they’re one step ahead in pursuing it as their career,” says Najwa Karamujic, Regional Client and Industry Advisor for WBF’s Fort McMurray office. Najwa should know; she’s a long-time resident of Fort McMurray and is passionate about her community. Now, she works with women to inform them about the in-demand careers in the region and assist them throughout the application and assessment process prior to WBF training.

That interest comes from local organizations as well. “We’ve worked with a number of employers in the RMWB, including Suncor and Imperial, and have partnered on our training with Keyano College,” says Megan Bates, Industry Relations Manager with WBF. “Having a presence here where some of our key partners are, and where so many of our alumni are working, just makes sense.”

A Proven Approach to Support Success in the Trades

WBF’s first step in attracting women into the trades is to build awareness of in-demand careers and help women determine their level of readiness to work in the industry. “We engage with women in the community and inform them of the opportunity for local work,” says Bates. For those who are interested in pursuing a career, they will go through an application and assessment process before starting WBF training to prepare for their new career path. “Even if a woman doesn’t attend a program right away, working with WBF staff, she is exploring her readiness to get into the trades and is educated about local employment opportunities.”

WBF works with local employers to ensure the training is relevant to industry’s workforce demands and will result in graduates that possess the knowledge and skills needed on the jobsite, including best practices in construction and maintenance, safety certifications, hands-on skills training and career development. Not only do WBF students see exactly what the work environment will be like and get training in employer expectations; they also prepare for the lifestyle shift with financial literacy and action planning for childcare and self-care. These are the kinds of things that affect a woman’s employment from day one and, when addressed, increase the likelihood of long-term employment success.

When WBF training programs near completion, industry sponsors and local employers from WBF’s network of over 76 Employers of Choice have the opportunity to interview and hire. This approach has proven to be successful, with a consistent employment rate of 90%. Once employed, WBF graduates are encouraged to stay connected and access ongoing retention and mentorship support for as long as they need it.

Preparing for Life-Changing Employment Through Technology

WBF is focused on increasing accessibility of training for women in the RMWB by offering its services online or through mobile technology. Women can access career exploration and assessment tools through a portal on WBF’s website to help decide whether a career in the construction trades or related occupations could be a fit for them and to determine their level of readiness to begin training.

WBF created a virtual reality (VR) experience that allows women to see first-hand what it’s like to drive a 45 tonne haul truck. The VR experience is available for viewing in our Fort McMurray office in September and October. For anyone who hasn’t sat in this piece of heavy equipment before, the experience is eye-opening. For the women who decide this is the career for them, the experience is exhilarating.

Some WBF training can now be completed through a blended learning model that combines face-to-face instruction, online learning and simulator training. This type of training is important, particularly for women who don’t reside close to Edmonton but want to prepare for their new career path.

The Impact of Employing More Women in Non-Traditional Careers

Women who complete WBF training often say this isn’t just a career change for them; it’s life-changing. So many inspiring stories come from WBF alumni who live and work right here in Fort McMurray.

“I can honestly say I couldn’t be happier! This career has changed my life for the better in so many ways. It has given me the financial stability to start thinking about starting a family, as well as allowing me to recently purchase my forever home.”

The impact of WBF’s services is truly significant. Women learn about careers they may not have previously considered and go on to gain in-demand skills. Employers tap into a local, diverse workforce. And the entire community benefits.

“Engaging the local workforce is important to help all of Alberta’s communities thrive, including the RMWB,” says Bates. “This type of training and preparation is a way to do that and help organizations gain strong employees in the process.”


For inquiries about Women Building Futures, visit or call 1-866-452-1201.

Western Economic Diversification Canada is a proud supporter of Women Building Futures and its programs.