Program helps women build a future

Women's carpentry workshop marks 700 grads since 1994

Sadira Abdiannia was desperate to change her life last year.
The 21-year-old server and musician was struggling with a longtime eating disorder and excessive drinking and had reached a point where she didn’t want to leave her home.
Abdiannia fled Vancouver for a month, sobered up and tried to pursue music school, which didn’t pan out.
“Then I was just working at the same job afterwards and I felt really defeated,” she said. “I was back where I was before, except now I’m sober and I couldn’t see anything in the future.”
On Sept. 12, Abdiannia will celebrate her graduation from Tradeworks Training Society’s carpentry program for women who have a hard time finding employment. She and nine classmates in Tradeworks Women’s Workshop won’t be the only ones celebrating next Thursday. Tradeworks will be marking 700 women graduating since 1994.
Each year, Tradeworks trains 40 women in carpentry, first aid, forklift operation and materials and safety along with professional skills needed for employment.
“This is a second chance at life,” said Maninder Dhaliwal, executive director of Tradeworks.
Some of the students have been street-level sex-trade workers, some have just completed rehab and others are looking to return to paid employment after decades spent working in the home.
Abdiannia read about the demand for women in trades, checked out training programs sponsored by the Industry Training Authority and applied to Tradeworks’s free 10-week program that runs out of a new carpentry shop in the Downtown Eastside.
Tradeworks Women’s Workshop runs with a female certified carpenter and a counsellor, who provided Abdiannia with immediate faith in her abilities.
“I didn’t even know that I was good at math and good at using tools and it’s not so hard to use a drill and it’s not so scary to use a saw,” Abdiannia said. “It’s like, oh I could never do that or build anything, but I actually can.”
Tradeworks also provides women with transportation and childcare costs, lunch, boots and tools.
“It’s definitely discouraging when you’re coming from a place where you don’t have [financial means],” Abdiannia said. “They make it so easy to enter it and explore.”
She hasn’t signed up for the six-month joinery program at the B.C. Institute of Technology as grads often do, but she does want to find a job in fabricating. She could sign up for a fabrication job at Tradeworks, which employs alumnae to create corporate gifts which are sold to fund training for individuals who don’t meet government criteria for program funding.
Trainees build compost boxes that are donated. Graduates work on the product line.
“Half of the people who graduate, they need a longer runway than just a 10-week or 20-week program,” Dhaliwal said. “Part of our mandate is stabilizing them towards full-time employment.”
Tradeworks also trains 36 youths a year in its Fab Shop.
Tradeworks’s social enterprise generates $500,000 per year and Dhaliwal has increased the sales target to $2 to $3 million so the society can help more women and youth excel in the trades.
With new skills under her belt, Abdiannia feels positive about her future.
“I’ve realized that building skills, it takes time and it takes practice and I’m not used to that,” she said.

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crossi@vancourier.com
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