Why Are There So Few Women Working In Skilled Trades?

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When you imagine what a skilled tradesperson looks like, you probably picture a guy with a beard wearing a hard hat, work boots and dirty jeans. But what about the women?

Women make up only 5% of skilled tradespeople – meanwhile, 84% of the people working in the hairstylist or aesthetician trades are women, according to Statistics Canada.

“Most companies that make the leap to hire a female worker, or 2 or 3 or 4, have nothing but good experiences. Their workforce tends to be more creative and active because any balance in a diverse workforce is going to be better.” —Tina Kelly, Co-chair of the Canadian Coalition for Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology 2012 conference and Academic Chair of the School of Trades and Technology at the Nova Scotia Community College

And the number of women receiving trade qualifications in Canada has been dropping steadily, from 17% in 1992 to 5% in 2007.

So why the trend?

Tina Kelly, Co-chair of CCWEST (Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology) 2012 conference and the Academic Chair of the School of Trades and Technology at the Nova Scotia Community College, says that even in this day and age, women can be discriminated against in the skilled trades workforce: “Women are usually in the top 10-15% of their class, but they are almost always among the last 10% to get hired.”

Also, according to the Government of Canada’s Skilled Trades website, there is currently a negative perception towards skilled trades among youth and their influences, with many believing that these jobs are low paying, involve physical work, are dirty, and are less academically challenging.

This is simply not the case for many skilled trades jobs and should not be considered the norm. Non-traditional skilled trades jobs for women (everything apart from hairstylist or aesthetician) are incredibly difficult to break into and succeed at because of these misconceptions.

“Most companies that make the leap to hire a female worker, or 2 or 3 or 4, have nothing but good experiences. Their workforce tends to be more creative and active because any balance in a diverse workforce is going to be better,” says Tina.

Plus, with the high wages of many skilled trade careers, “single moms that can’t make it on administrative work can now support families, buy their own homes, and are roles models for their families and for their communities,” says Tina. The companies that are yelling “SKILLS SHORTAGE” should be paying close attention to the enrollment of women into trades programs as a big part of the possible solution.

“Unfortunately,” says Tina, “you need to apprentice for 3 to 4 years to become proficient for a trade, and some women don’t make it because of the stigma and the discrimination in many trade environments. It is always a struggle for the first few women in that company or that trade because they are the ground breakers.”

However, Tina is still positive about the future for women in skilled trades. “We are hosting the CCWEST 2012 SeaChange conference — it’s a national conference, but has never been in Nova Scotia. The first day of conference we’re going to bring together a policy forum that includes all the ministers in charge of Status of Women across the country together with industry and women working in these fields in order to come up with policies and practices to help build Canada’s economy for women.”

There is an opportunity to remedy the skilled trade labour shortage and enrich our economy, but Canadian women must fight a little to take it.

If you’re a young woman interested in pursuing a career in the skilled trades, here are a few tips to help you overcome the barriers mentioned above:

  • Join professional associations for skilled tradespeople as well as industry associations to network with other people in your trade and industry.
  • Get a mentor – or more than one – and don’t just limit yourself to other women.
  • Seek and apply for scholarships, bursaries and awards for women, Aboriginal peoples and visible minorities.

 

Visit TalentEgg’s Skilled Trades Career Guide for eggs-clusive student and entry level Skilled Trades jobs plus articles and videos to help you hatch your career.

 

Photo credit: Women in construction by University of Salford on Flickr
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About the author

Arina Kharlamova is a budding writer of mainly poetry, and sometimes things that can be understood at first glance. She is an Assistant Editor-turned-Contributor at TalentEgg and an undergrad at York University, working on a specialized Honours Bachelor's degree in English and Professional writing. She can be found bouncing all over the internet in a tweeterific, face-friendly, blogosized fit of energy.