With Canada set to face a massive shortage of skilled trade workers over the next 10 to 15 years,
recruitment is an urgent focus for trade sector organizations.

In addition to outreach to the traditional sources, groups that have been traditionally underrepresented
in the manufacturing and construction sectors are being sought out and urged to consider careers in the

One rich and nearly untapped source is women. Women make up about half the labour force but less
than 4 percent of the skilled trade sector. Small wonder that governments, industry associations,
colleges and trade schools, trade unions and employers are encouraging women to consider a career in
the trades.

But women climbing the rungs of what has been a mainly male work ladder can face particular
challenges, some broader cultural or structural issues, some more basic.

Enter Jodi Huettner. In 2011, when she began her career as a junior engineer in the BC environmental
consulting industry, Jodi quickly realized that work overalls and coveralls designed for a woman’s body
were simply not available. “I founded Helga Wear in 2014 to solve that problem,” said Ms. Huettner.
“Improperly fitting work attire causes safety issues, plus, it’s not ideal when you can’t take a hygiene
break without removing your tool belt, high-vis vest and coveralls.”

At the same time, Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyards, whose skilled trade workforce includes a growing
number of women, was seeking to address feedback from employees about the form and function of
“unisex” coveralls. “I’d reached out to a number of suppliers and kept hearing the same thing: ‘We don’t
have a product specifically designed for women, they will just have to use the men’s coverall and adapt’
– I was not impressed.” said Karen Clarke, Senior Manager, Supply Chain Management at Seaspan’s
Victoria Shipyards.

Helga Wear came to Karen’s attention when the start-up’s founder and her workwear for women were
featured on CBC’s The Stats of Life. Karen turned to her husband, exclaiming “Hey! That’s something we
need at the shipyard!” She reached out to the company’s founder the next day, inviting her to meet with
some of the women of Seaspan to obtain their insights about the specific needs of women shipbuilders
and ideas for how to improve their workwear. Following that meeting, Seaspan provided Helga Wear
with seed funding for product design and development.

The coverall that Helga Wear has developed for the women of Seaspan meets safety requirements,
offers a fit proportioned for a woman’s body, has zippered legs to facilitate going to the washroom, as
well as other features such as adjustable collar widths, elasticated waists, and knee pad pockets.

Field-testing of the coveralls took place this summer at Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyard. The women of
Seaspan were pleased. Working with ALSCO Linen Services, another Seaspan partner, Helga Wear will be
providing Seaspan with three pairs of coveralls for each of the Shipyards’ women trade workers. ALSCO
has also committed to adding Helga Wear coveralls to their product line, ensuring that the fledgling
Canadian company’s coveralls will reach across Canada, and potentially to other markets. “We’re really
proud to be working with Seaspan and Helga Wear on this initiative,” explained Jorge do Nascimento, General Manager of ALSCO Canada, applauding Jodi and Karen’s determination to ensure that the
evolving workplace is equitable for all.

Karen can’t wait to see tradeswomen across the country wearing Helga Wear. “Highly-skilled women in
the trades shouldn’t have to adapt to the uniform, it should adapt to them.”