Family influence can be pivotal to women entering STEM-related engineering technology profession
07, Dec, 2023
EDMONTON, Dec. 7, 2023 – Just as the holiday season is a family affair so seems to be the case of careers for many women in the traditionally male-dominated engineering technology profession. That’s according to findings by a provincial STEM organization, the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET). A survey of its women membership revealed that close to a third of respondents (27.65 per cent) cited familial influence as the reason why they entered the profession.
No one understands this trend better than Sharon Lefebvre whose successful career as a geomatics engineering technologist was inspired by her father, Donald Elmer Hallonquist. Employed for many decades by Alberta transportation, he had extensive experience in surveying, geological testing, and road building, and built many of the highways on which Albertans drive.
“He was for many years an instrument man on the survey crew, responsible for running the crew, and for calculations and operating the instruments,” said Lefebvre. “I did that job for most of my own career. The key difference is he used a slide ruler and I, at first, used logarithm tables and a calculator, then eventually computer software programs.”
Her father ultimately encouraged her to enrol at NAIT in the field of surveying technology, and was always available to answer her questions about calculations, theory or work procedures. Lefebvre graduated from NAIT in 1986 and worked as a surveyor in road building until 1992 when she moved to Fort McMurray. There, she became employed with legal survey companies, which she is still doing to this day. She has made a name for herself, doing work that would, in turn, make him proud.
Electronics engineering technologist-in-training Cassandra Yousph of Carstairs credits her mom, Jo Klitzke, with her career choice. At the start of her career, Yousph completed a computer control program at SAIT that focused on electronics engineering technology and gave her entrée into the engineering technology profession. Though her mom didn’t work specifically in engineering technology, Yousph ended up with the same job title as her mom (project manager) and executed the same role and responsibilities.
“We both studied, learned and practiced programming skills and used similar software programs, worked in oilfield and manufacturing environments, and been sole proprietors and owned and operated our own small businesses over the years,” said Yousph.
The other key reason why women ASET members opted to join the engineering technology profession was good opportunities and good pay (64.52 per cent). The 2023 ASET Salary Survey, a survey separate from the ASET Women in Technology Survey, shows that the average base salary for engineering technology graduates starting their careers as technologists-in-training is $67,718.
Approximately 12 per cent of ASET’s membership is female - the highest percentage of its provincial counterparts - and ASET CEO Barry Cavanaugh is hoping that number will improve. ASET has introduced initiatives to support women in technology, including webinars designed to empower women engineering technologists in their workplaces and a dedicated women in technology newsletter published twice a year.
“At ASET, we often hear about women choosing careers in engineering technology as a result of a family member leading by example,” said Cavanaugh. “Kudos to those family members who, through their guidance, have helped encourage the participation of women in the once traditionally male-dominated engineering technology profession where rewarding and well-remunerated opportunities are plentiful.”
A study last year signalled the urgency of attracting more Canadians to STEM careers, including youth poised to enter post-secondary education. In August 2022, the C.D. Howe Institute released a report called The Knowledge Gap, which indicated that Canada faces a digital and STEM skills shortage due to the aging population and rapid digitalization across the economy - a reality further intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unresolved, these skill shortages will have a negative impact on Canadian businesses and the economy. One of the report’s recommendations was to increase STEM enrolment and graduation numbers by raising students’ performance in STEM subjects.
ASET is the professional self-regulatory organization for engineering technologists and technicians in Alberta. ASET currently represents over 17,000 members, including full-time technology students, recent graduates and fully certified members in 21 disciplines and more than 120 occupations across a multitude of industries.
Michele Penz, Calico Communications for ASET