The Yukon is often suited to those with a hands-on lifestyle. The territory is brimming with active, independent, multi-skilled residents.

And women in the professional trade field are growing.

One organization in Whitehorse is contributing to this growth that by educating young women in high school from across the territory and providing them with opportunity to pursue the career of their passion.

This year, Yukon Women in Trades & Technology (YWITT) has provided an after school program called Cool Tools for students in Grade 8 and 12, which correlates with an annual Young Women Exploring Trades Career Fair, held every November at Yukon College.

“This year we test-drove the Cool Tools program, starting in September,” says Kim Solonick, YWITT executive director.

Solonick started with YWITT six months ago and it has been her goal to narrow in on the students and get girls excited about trade possibilities.

“We had a group of 10 high school girls go through a series of workshops. They had instruction in culinary arts, electrical, sheet metal, carpentry and heavy equipment operating.

“Then, it was so successful, we ran it again and we are mid-way in that program right now.”

Nancy Rohaly leads students in a Cool Tools electrical workshop last fall PHOTO: Provided by Yukon Women in Trades and Technology

Solonick has seven students enrolled in the latest workshop series, which began in January. Each workshop is two hours over two days, and takes place after school, primarily at Yukon College where space, tools and instructors are resourced.

“In culinary arts they prepare meals, in carpentry, tiling and welding they build projects. So they get to take the projects home with them,” says Solonick.

These take-home projects include copper sprinklers and extension cords.

The series builds off of the one-day Young Women Exploring Trades Career Fair, which also takes place at Yukon College, and brings 120 Grade 8 girls from Whitehorse and the communities for hands-on workshops in eight different trades.

Students from the communities are given transportation into Whitehorse, and chaperoned and accommodated when they arrive.

Previously after the fair ended, there was a loss of contact with the girls. The Cool Tools series follows up with new interest sparked at the fair, and allows the girls to further explore the trade field.

“[Programs like this] give them some tangible skills they can use, it builds their confidence, it breaks down some of the barriers and the stigma the girls might feel,” Solonick says

She was also involved in trades at one time, as a heavy equipment operator.

Solonick says it would be ideal for the young women to be taught by women instructors, but as it is not always possible, so some male instructors teach too. Many of these instructors are from the college.

“The beauty of [being hosted by the college] is that these women have now made a connection with the college as well,” says Solonick.

But there are many role model women involved with the organization that lead the workshops.

Nancy Rohaly, for one, helps run Cool Tools and the career fair—a side to being a self-employed electrical contractor.

Further, Rohaly and others, such as Maureen Moore, set an example in the territory for older women too.

Moore, a trailblazer for apprenticing in carpentry in the Yukon, led a team of 11 women with YWITT in building greenhouse at the Dawson City Women’s Shelter last summer.

The project took place over a weekend, and for some women, put tools in their hands for the first time.

Similar projects over the past two years, again with the construction of a greenhouses, have been undertaken by the Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmates in collaboration with YWITT and Yukon College. .

The women at the Correctional Centre built a greenhouse for their yard at the annex, and last year they constructed a greenhouse with materials supplied by the Downtown Urban Gardeners Society for the society’s community garden.

Wrapping up the 2011/2012 year, funding has just been approved for a new lineup of projects and planning is in its initial stages.

In May, Soloski will be talking more about YWITT programming at the Yukon Mining Week at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse, and later that month at the Dawson City Gold Show.

“We travel to the communities, we talk about what opportunities in the trades looks like, how they can get involve, how we can support them,” says Solonick.

“You live in the North, it’s 40 below and you just snapped the end off your extension cord. Well these girls know how to replace the end!”

For more information, contact YWITT at 867-667-4441 or ywitt@yukonwitt.org.