Graduates of the program have left clerical and secretarial work to move into jobs such as parking meter repair technicians, communications equipment installers, public works inspectors, pipeline inspectors, and parks labourers. These jobs offer women an opportunity to move out from behind a desk to a more physically active setting. Often it is a job where they work outdoors, use their body strength as well as their intellect, work more autonomously, and earn more pay.
BRIDGES is about giving women employees choices, about providing catch-up training to help them be more competitive and more qualified for a career change. It is about organizations changing, supporting their own employees to move into jobs previously held only by men and learning about the actual process of employment equity through a special initiative.
Designing the Bridge
In August of 1979, City of Toronto staff met to brainstorm ways to move more women into no jobs. They were concerned that the civic work force was almost totally sex segregated, with very little movement between traditional jobs and the so-called "non-traditional". Inspired by the Introduction to Non-Traditional Occupations programs delivered through the community college system, BRIDGES training was developed and supported cooperatively by City departments across the corporation, the unions, and the funders (Employment and Immigration Canada, the Ontario Women's Directorate, and the City of Toronto).
The initial program was very successful and on the basis of this success, Employment and Immigration Canada encouraged the City of Toronto to sponsor additional BRIDGES Programs, to see if they would work in other public and private sector organizations. This revised BRIDGES program began in March of 1989, a decade after the first vision began to take life. It has been funded by Employment and Immigration Canada, the Ontario Ministries of Education and Municipal Affairs, the City of Toronto and participating companies.
The training focuses on empowering employees to make well-informed career decisions for themselves and to be successful in competing for and performing in the chosen job. The program has been designed to "bridge" gaps which prevent women from moving into no jobs in their own companies and on their own initiative. In the program planning, gaps were identified and modules designed to bridge them. Examples of the gaps and corresponding modules are given in a side-bar to this article.
Building Bridges in an Organization
When a new service or program is introduced to a community, it is important to follow certain strategic steps to maximize success. It is equally important to be strategic in implementing change in a workplace. In order for BRIDGES to be successful, the following steps should be taken:
Needs-assessment: Is there a match between the goals of the BRIDGES program and an organization? Women employees may be surveyed, or other more informal methods used to assess no jobs where women are under-represented and whether there is sufficient interest in this kind of career change.
Appointing a BRIDGES Coordinator: Ensure that a staff person will be designated to coordinate and champion the program.
Identifying stakeholders: Involving those who may be affected by the program in the assessment, development, and implementation is important.
A key to the success of BRIDGES is this collaborative process. It results in commitment to and ownership of the program from a wide range of players. Careful attention to potential resisters and to their motives will minimize opposition and develop wider ownership of the Program. At the City of Toronto, a BRIDGES Union-Management Advisory Committee was formed; there is also a national, Toronto-based BRIDGES Advisory Board for all interested in participating in the program.