Brandi Ferenc is part of the change that’s coming to the skilled trades.
The Georgian College instructor has been recognized as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award winners of 2022 in the skilled trades category by the Women’s Executive Network.
Ferenc, 50, is an advocate for and a mentor to women in the skilled trades.
“What needs to happen is obviously companies just need to look at hiring talented humans and remove the gender from the job. That’s what will make the difference,” she said. “It’s going to be a slow process … change isn’t easy. And it rarely happens fast.”
Ferenc is a Red Seal refrigeration mechanic/gas fitter 313a journeyperson by trade, and is part of the team at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, responsible for the heating, cooling and refrigeration systems in the Newmarket hospital.
At Georgian, she’s a part-time instructor in the gas technician and heating, refrigeration and air-conditioning program.
When she started in 2015, there were no women in her class. Now she says there are four in her program.
“As a program to have four women, although the percentage is very low, that really to me is a sign of progress,” Ferenc said.
She made herself available as a mentor early in her career and is now being given the opportunity to do it professionally.
“It was never something I thought I would be so passionate about, but it’s really rewarding,” Ferenc said. “Personally, it makes it all worthwhile for me looking back on the hard days.
“I like to say I survived, so that they can thrive.”
She said she remembers being there on a day-to-day basis with women in the trades early in her career, lending a hand, lifting that next generation up and offering encouragement.
“To have that person beside you, as sort of your sister in the trenches, to be there and lend an ear and say you know tomorrow’s going to be better to maybe to have some advice as to how to deal with a certain situation, I think that’s kind of where it began for me and it was very organic,” Ferenc said.
As for the change, she said it needs to come from the top down.
“We really need to change that landscape, the old boys club, it’s a thing of the past and what really needs to change is that employers are the ones who are going to make the difference,” Ferenc said. “The issue is that women don’t want to stay in the trades and I don’t blame them. It can be a hostile environment and on the employers' side.
"It’s not just enough to have one token female. That’s not OK.”
The Top 100 Awards span the private, public and not-for-profit sectors recognizing outstanding women from across Canada who advocate for workforce diversity and inspire tomorrow’s leaders.
Ferenc joins a legacy of iconic Canadians, including Rona Ambrose, former leader of the Official Opposition in the House of Commons, Dr. Jean Augustine, the first African-Canadian woman elected to the House of Commons, Melissa Grelo, co-host of CTV’s The Social, Michele Romanow, tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist, and Susan Aglukark, award-winning musician.
The Top 100 Award recipients were recognized and celebrated at an awards gala at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto last month.
“I am worthy of the award, I feel, and I’m just excited, Ferenc said. “It’s really given me a new lease on life in a sense in my career path. I am even more motivated than I was in the past to really make a difference for the next generation of women so that they can thrive and they don’t have to go through the trials and tribulations that I had to.”