While nearly half of the workforce is female, the Department of Labor reports that women represent less than five per cent of workers in the skilled trades. Even as other industries increase their level of outreach and hiring of women, construction and the skilled trades have not made as much headway.
Women bring particular talents to the workplace that may improve productivity and the work environment. Also, learning a skilled trade has the same advantages for women as it has historically had for men: it provides the pathway to a steady, well-paying job that cannot be outsourced.
Are women the future of the skilled trades? Yes. The industry needs them: not because they are female, but because they are every bit as capable of performing the work, and there is plenty of work to be done (and not enough male bodies currently lining up to do it). Women also bring new perspectives to old trades, and are part of the answer to the looming labor shortage.
What Women Bring to the Skilled Trades
Cindy Stauss, Construction Project Manager for Deacon Construction, LLC, raves about the tradeswomen she works with. “Women are excellent multi-taskers. They are highly organized and extremely skilled. I have also found that women are a bit more even-tempered than many of the male workers and are a calming influence on the jobsite.”
“Women are excellent multi-taskers. They are highly organized and extremely skilled.”
Jo An Castro, owner of JP Electric in Rowlett, TX and a master electrician, says that when people see a woman entering their homes “they feel more comfortable than if a big burly man walks into their house. Wives, in particular, seem to appreciate it.”
Castro sees electrical work as an opportunity to help people. She also says women are excellent problem-solvers and trouble-shooters who think outside of the box, a quality that Alicia Lee—a business developer at Globus Management, Inc.—has also noted. April Wetzel, project manager for a major homebuilder, says, “Women have a different eye and see things men may not notice.”
Eight years ago Jo An Castro was one of only six female master electricians in the entire State of Texas—and there aren’t a lot more today. Why are there not more women entering the skilled trades?
Attracting Women to the Skilled Trades
Certainly, both gender bias and stereotyping play a role in the small percentage of females in the skilled trades. Castro mentions that when she became a journeyman electrician, nobody would hire her in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, implying if not stating that it was because of her gender.
In the end, Castro decided to go into business for herself, opening an electrical contracting company that has enjoyed great success.
Women may not consider the skilled trades simply because there are so few female role models to introduce these fields.
Women may not consider the skilled trades simply because there are so few female role models to introduce these fields. Girls and women are rarely targeted for learning and working in the skilled trades. Creating print, online, and television content showing women working as electricians, carpenters, pipe layers and plumbers would build visibility.
Trade unions and contractors can enlist the aid of high school counselors to promote these professions as assiduously as they promote computer science and healthcare. Bringing back vocational classes would also expose more young people to the trades.
Why Should Women Consider the Skilled Trades?
Besides providing a skill that is always in demand, the trades are one area where pay parity has been reached in many states. Most trades are unionized and require equal pay for equal work. Men and women electricians are paid at the same rate. A college degree is not required, either, and many trades are learned as paid apprenticeships.
The skilled trades are well compensated. For example, master electrician pay rates start at $20 an hour, double the federal minimum wage, and can go as high as $39 an hour for experienced professionals. By contrast, customer support representative or data entry clerk earns a top wage of $18 or $19 an hour.
Stauss, Castro, Lee, and Wetzel all agree that women are the future of the skilled trades. Each has seen women gain the respect of the men around them and provide entry for future women in the trades.