We have seen a huge payoff in so many ways. For the women, the increase in income is a game changer and the increase in self-confidence is transformative."
JudyLynn Archer, BTech-CM (Hon)
JudyLynn Archer of Edmonton is a groundbreaker, mentor and tireless advocate. She has enabled thousands of women to transform their lives through well-paying and rewarding jobs in the trades, and helped companies recognize the benefits of hiring job-ready women to meet their growing labour demand.
Born in British Columbia and growing up in a single parent family on welfare, JudyLynn found her interest captured at an early age by the many trades-adjacent jobs in her community, such as logging and tugboat operating. She recalls her uncle, a railroad engineer, taking her through some of the finer points of his job. Through his own passion, he instilled in her a lifelong love of working with her hands and problem-solving on the fly.
She was caught up by how much those people in her community loved their work, and how those jobs made it possible for them to have a home and financially support their family. She remembers longing for the stability and security these families had because of those jobs.
“I saw people – mostly guys at that time of course – doing really cool, challenging technical work, honing their skills while working alongside experienced veterans. And they were making a good living doing it,” JudyLynn says.
After trying a variety of uninspiring jobs, JudyLynn found her way in her late 20s to the transportation industry as a truck driver, where there were very few women at the time. She remembers how her fellow truck drivers judged her capabilities. But she also remembers how those seasoned operators grew her passion for the work and willingly answered her questions about how she could do her job better.
In the late 1990s, she met a group of social workers who were fed up with the number of women living in or below the poverty line, despite the surplus of high-paying jobs in construction trades.
“Here was a chance to contribute to something that could be great for women and great for an industry I love,” JudyLynn says.
The key to long-term career success and opportunity, in JudyLynn’s view, was to focus on designated trades where the individual would eventually become a certified journeyperson. With this in mind, she founded Women Building Futures (WBF). One of her first acts as founding president was to research the success rate for women in construction-related apprenticeships. Her research showed that completion rates were low, as was job retention. She asked construction companies why they thought that was the case.
Most of the feedback was about the perception of women being unprepared. She remembers one comment that really resonated with her and became crucial for the success of the young organization. “I asked him and he said, ‘I have a 20-year-old daughter and I would not want her to come out onto my job site, because what if she were injured on my watch, or injured someone else because she didn't understand the hazards and the things that can happen?'” remembers JudyLynn. She knew the program needed to prepare women for the unique challenges of trades job sites, and address the issues raised by these seasoned veterans.
JudyLynn created a comprehensive assessment program designed to help women determine their readiness and commitment for apprenticeship and working in the construction environment. Next, she worked to develop curriculum that would ready WBF students to consistently meet or exceed demands of apprenticeship training and the workplace, including job skills, math, physical fitness, safety preparedness and strategies to succeed in a predominantly male environment.
WBF’s goal was to graduate exceptional individuals who would consistently demonstrate the commitment and capacity to fulfil the demands of the apprenticeship process and workplace. In JudyLynn’s words: “If we wanted to earn respect, we had to deliver consistently good people. And that’s what we did.”
But it wasn’t only industry that had to be convinced. In the early 2000s, most girls and women were discouraged from considering construction and related trades. WBF needed to get the message to women that with the right preparation, success for them was more than possible - it was extremely likely. WBF embarked on a 10-year campaign to spread this message, and change beliefs. It worked. Today, thousands of women connect with WBF to explore career options in the trades.
Since launching, WBF has graduated more than 2,000 women with a 90 per cent or higher employment rate. On average, depending on the trade, WBF graduates earn two and a half times more than before entering the program.
Companies work directly with WBF to meet their current and future trades workforce needs. The commitment to apprenticeship completion, from all parties involved, is stronger than ever.
“WBF’s focus has always been on training under-employed women, many of whom are single parents,” JudyLynn says. “Apprenticeship offers career paths with endless opportunity for professional growth and financial security. It’s just such a win-win.”
Upon her retirement as CEO, JudyLynn established an endowment fund to help cover tuition and housing costs for women enrolled in WBF programs. “It’s a way to continue investing in women by making sure they have access to WBF programs. I continue to fundraise because I believe Alberta women are worth the investment,” she says.
JudyLynn has been named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women. She is the recipient of a Global TV Woman of Vision Award, holds an honorary Construction Engineering Technology degree from NAIT, and earned the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Chairman’s Award of Excellence. In 2020, JudyLynn will be invested as a member of the Alberta Order of Excellence.
JudyLynn resides in Edmonton, living and loving life to the max.