Élise Côté: Bringing more women into the marine world
Élise Côté spent 20 years as an engineer in the Royal Canadian Navy, which by profession, and through choice of employer, placed her automatically in the minority.
In October 2019, she joined Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) and is now part of their National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) directorate assessing future trade and professional needs to ensure a vibrant and sustainable future for Canada’s domestic shipbuilding industry.
Élise’s post-military professional life with PSPC has allowed her the opportunity to re-join the marine community she loves, and to help develop Canada’s shipbuilding capacity while encouraging girls and women to pursue a career in what was once considered a male bastion.
“Women are typically underrepresented across the entire the marine sector,” said Élise,“because historically it’s been a male-dominated environment. But it's also a great environment for women who would like careers in maritime engineering and other related occupations.”
Future ship builders
Her own work, with the relatively new NSS Human Resources Strategy Directorate, is focused on identifying the skills Canada’s shipbuilding industry will need to grow over the next several decades, from welders to project managers.
“We want to make sure that we have the appropriate number of workers with the right skills to build and deliver ships in Canada,” she said. “Right now, there is a shortage of labour across Canada and the shipyards are affected by that. The technical occupations we are looking for, such as engineers, human resources managers and skilled project managers are in demand from every industrial sector.”
Currently, Élise and her colleagues are starting to work with other federal departments in an effort to coordinate and harness cross-government expertise and formulate a co-ordinated approach to addressing the skills deficit.
“First, we need to confirm what all the needs are,” she said. “If we want training that is better aligned with our needs then another part of the strategy will involve outreach to post-secondary institutions to discuss how courses can be tailored to meet those needs.
“If we approach this in a coordinated way across the country,” she added, “it gives us the advantage of learning from each other; if something great is happening on the East Coast, maybe it can also work on the West Coast, or wherever it makes sense.”
Élise has a wealth of experience and knowledge to impart for women interested in pursuing careers in the marine world.
As a Halifax-based Naval Combat Systems Engineer, she was responsible for the maintenance of warfare systems and ammunition; above water and underwater sensor systems and navigation and communication systems, to name but a few.
“At one point,” she said, “I was one of 6 to 10 women on a ship of 220 people, so being a woman meant you were always part of a small group. It also meant there were limited role models when I began my career. It’s gradually changing now because more females are joining the navy and more of them are reaching senior ranks.”
Élise also worked as a recruiter, a training officer and an instructor engaging with youth and women about opportunities in the Navy and related professional fields.
Through her work with PSPC, Élise will help create a strengthened, more inclusive and skilled labour force while making the case to women that traditional norms can be broken and whatever their chosen trade or profession, they can have an equal part to play in the future of Canada’s shipbuilding program.
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