Skip to content

Women in the Trades: Carpenter's daughter carries on the family tradition

Long-time trades specialist Jill Rydall now training the next generation at Canadore College
Jill Rydall has been a carpenter for three decades and is currently the coordinator of Canadore College’s School of Trades and Technology program.

Growing up as a carpenter’s daughter and working with her father in his contracting business allowed Jill Rydall to imagine herself working in the trades.

Rydall, a licensed carpenter for the past 30 years, was the first female member of the Sault Ste. Marie Carpenter’s Union.

Statistics Canada reports in 2022 only five percent of skilled trades workers across Canada were women. Rydall would like to see that number increase substantially.

Today she is a professor and coordinator in Canadore College’s School of Trades and Technology program in North Bay.

“My dad’s workshop was my playground,” she shared.

She grew up in the small town of Bar River, outside of Echo Bay and 25 kilometres east of Sault Ste. Marie. Her father operated a contracting business and employed his children. They did home renovations, exterior and interior finishes, raised houses and cottages to put new basements in, and sometimes moved them to a new foundation.

At 18, she was hired by a local contractor to lay flooring for her aunt. He wanted to hire a woman, she said, supposedly because they pay more attention to detail. After working with her father for a few years, Rydall landed her first job at Algoma Steel and gained her apprenticeship.

“I was so scared to go to work,” she admitted. “I got to the parking lot, saying to myself, ‘Not doing it,’ and then ‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ and turned around and went in.”

Although it was a tough start, it turned into a fantastic experience.

“There were guys that did the odd thing; my foreman would put an end to it immediately, though,” she recalls. “One older worker told me I should be at home, but you don’t pay any attention to those comments.”

Apprenticeship is important in the trades and she started her first job with 9,000 hours of residential building experience just from working in the family business. They started her as an apprentice and quickly bumped her to a level two.

Rydall eventually landed a job at Canadore as the shop technologist teaching basic safety skills. After 10 years, she decided to make a change and eventually landed in southern Ontario teaching the Women in Skilled Trades program at the Centre for Skills Development.

The majority of her career has been in teaching and demonstrating the variety of skilled trades available.

“I am finally seeing more women come into my classes, but it took a lot of years,” she said. “I think social media is sharing the message that women are working in the trades and thinking, ‘Maybe I can do this.'”

Her first-time teaching at Canadore, she was 26 years of age, but returned 11 years ago to finish out her career.

She loves her work as the coordinator in the building department and faculty for the carpentry apprenticeship program. Canadore's carpentry labs provide over 14,000 square feet of training space. That is large enough to have two full-size houses built within that space.

Rydall helped to launch the college's pre-apprenticeship program for women, with a focus on Indigenous women in the trades. It's been running for five years.

“My experience has always been that it is a struggle to get women into the trades,” she said. “We are lucky to get one or two in the regular program. But we are finally starting to see more women coming in.

“There is such a shortage of tradespeople, and women can fill those gaps."

If you love athletics and the outdoors, carpentry is great, Rydall said, since you are working out every day.

She wants women to know that if working in the trades is something they want to do, they shouldn't let anyone tell them they can’t do it.

Rydall said she has had a great career that has provider her with financial independence and a decent wage.