Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
The Canadian Welding Association is very pleased to be here today. We thank the committee for inviting us to speak on this very important bill, but before I begin those remarks, I would like to provide some background information on our organization.
The Canadian Welding Association is a division of the Canadian Welding Bureau, which is a not-for-profit organization that is mandated to promote and support the welding and joining industry in Canada. The Canadian Welding Bureau upholds Canada's national welding standards and has kept Canadians safe through the certification of welding companies, products, and the qualifications of welders for nearly a century. The association is composed of over 65,000 members, with 25 chapters across Canada. We have international membership in 80 countries.
Our organizations support every facet of the welding industry, a critical industry in the success of the Canadian economy. Fabricated structural steel and bridges, shipbuilding, pipeline construction, and energy development are some of the industries that are using our innovative certification program—in total, over 7,000 companies.
Most people don't realize just how much of our modern world is welded together. The experienced hand of a welder is essential to creating everything from our cars, planes, and ships to pacemakers, hearing aids, and surgical tools. It is also critical for the success of many major infrastructure and development projects across the country, such as buildings, bridges, subways, pipelines, and several others. Welding contributes over $5 billion to the Canadian economy and employs over 300,000 individuals.
Through our work over the last several decades, we have realized that there is a need for greater outreach to attract more Canadians to work in this innovative industry. That's part of the reason why in 2013 we established the Canadian Welding Association Foundation. The CWA Foundation has a key mandate to improve welding education and student engagement across Canada. As a registered charity, the CWA Foundation has developed programs that reach under-represented groups in the industry, including women, indigenous peoples, new immigrants, and youth. The foundation has already contributed $5 million in support of welding education, scholarships, equipment purchases, and training for teachers. Our cumulative investment will be $15 million by 2019-20.
All levels of government are planning to invest in significant infrastructure projects over the next few decades. Coupled with investments in shipbuilding, mining, construction, transportation, and pipeline projects, the demand for welders and other tradespeople will only continue to grow. Skills Canada has estimated that one million skilled trades workers will be needed by the year 2020.
Recent research has also found that balancing the gender ratio between men and women in the skilled trades is important for creating a strong, diversified economy. Having a balanced gender ratio can even increase revenues by roughly 41%. Obvious ways to diversify the labour pool are by recruiting, retaining, and advancing women in skilled trades. These steps are important because of the increased retirements of baby boomers, along with Canada's aging population; high competition in the need for trades workers in Canada and internationally; and new occupations with trade skills demands.
Currently, only 5% of welders are women. We have noted that there is a growing interest among women to enter this field, but experiences like the one of the woman welder that led to the creation of Bill C-243 speak to a larger narrative of how certain policies can deter women from entering fields such as welding and other trades. Through our work with employers and that of our foundation, we have invested in programs that encourage and support women to consider careers in welding.
For example, the CWA Foundation recently partnered with the Irving shipyards in Halifax to cover the tuition and welding gear costs for 18 women who are currently participating in apprenticeships at the Irving shipyards. Also, this past January, we held a week-long welding camp here in Ottawa for single mothers, and we have initiated a series of summer camps for women and girls across the country in an effort to expose them to the industry. We have witnessed first-hand how our outreach is translating into more women enrolling in post-secondary welding programs.
Bill C-243 is critical for ensuring that future women welders, or anyone working in the trades, are not placed in a position of financial hardship when making a decision to have children.
We are proud of the work we do in communities across Canada. From providing scholarships to funding welding experience camps, we work to ensure that we meet the needs of the industry, now and in the future. Welds are literally everywhere, so it is important that we have a robust supply of well-trained welders, and that includes encouraging more women to enter the field.
To conclude, let me just reiterate that we are now seeing more women enrolled in trades programs across the country. Our organization is continuing to work collaboratively with the foundation to ensure that welding programs are available in secondary schools across the country, which is critical for attracting more women and under-represented groups to enter the field.
Bill C-243 realizes the value of supporting women who are unable to work due to pregnancy and whose employers are unable to accommodate them by providing reassignment. This bill allows for greater flexibility for pregnant women to be properly accommodated, so they are not forced into financial hardship. The enactment of Bill C-243 into law will protect pregnant women and help our goal of encouraging more women to consider a career in the trades.