Gentle increase in the number of women in trade occupations
- Published on Thursday 20 March, 2014
- 4 min. read
Trade commencements increased from 22,700 in the June quarter 2013 to 27,200 in the September 2013 quarter – but will that include an increase in the number of women in the building and construction sector?
Not according to our customers who advise the number of women in trades hasn’t improved over the last couple of years (from 15.7% for the full year 2012 to 15.4% for the full year 2013 for women in apprenticeships on the National Skills Needs List).
In fact, the proportion of women commencing an apprenticeship or traineeship across all the technical and trade businesses has remained around 15% since 1995. Obviously we need to do more if we are to ensure we have enough tradespeople working in the construction sector.
Major workplace challenges, according to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) include practical ones such as the lack of amenities for females, cultural issues and negative stereotypes about a woman’s ability to do the required work. According to a NSW government case study on ‘Lucy’ the stereotypes are gradually changing. She says that she always has to explain why she is there. “People can’t process it as they can’t understand why I am not doing an office job, but once I explain what I do and why I love my job, they become more supportive.”
Another challenge is retaining women apprentices once they’ve started. It’s a challenge with male apprentices as well – and for many of the same reasons.
The Construction and Property Services Industry Skills Council 2013 e-scan stated perceptions need to be challenged. At MEGT we’re finding perceptions need to be addressed on both sides – those of the employer and those of the applicants. Like other employers, we receive very few female applicants for trade apprenticeships – which is why the publicity around successful real life stories of women in their trade is so important. As an experiment, I posted a quick survey on Facebook – targeting around 77,000 young women 17 to 25 years old and asked if they were interested in working in the building and construction industry as an apprentice. I received only 7 likes.
Many women have not been educated about the opportunities that exist in the skilled construction trades. The personal rewards of working in a trade need to be promoted to school leavers and young women in general:- the satisfaction of working in a tangible industry; being able to stand back and say: I did that; the physical aspect of the job combined with the strategic thinking involved; knowing that there are plenty of work opportunities in the skills shortages areas. Physical strength is important but that is changing along with equipment improvements. There are so many mechanical advantages now that it has become much easier to work smarter rather than harder. (You can almost hear bones creaking on building sites – an issue for both genders.
With growing shortages of workers, more employers will work out ways to overcome the physical challenges of the workplace and perceptions will follow suit as a result of positive experiences. Attracting candidates is the next big hurdle.
Advertising through traditional recruitment media is not a solution when the job seeker doesn’t search for your trade. Although Facebook didn’t work for my quick survey, social media and other online networking has brought women from all over the world together to support, mentor and talk about their work in the trades with one another. It’s an important platform for organisations such as Auto Skills, Fanelle (Apprentice & Tradeswomen Network) and Lady Tradies to promote good news stories of women in trades in Australia. Besides school careers talks, social networking is probably going to be the most effective way to promote vacancies, particularly considering the wider range of targeting tools available online.
It’s possible to promote vacancies not only to very specific demographic profiles (geographic region, age and gender), but also psychographic with paid Facebook ads filtered for industries and interests.
Across all social media – Pinterest, YouTube, Whirlpool and so on, there are no-cost opportunities to promote careers to groups of people with the type of interests you think would be a good fit for your trade. Online discussions are generally free so the only challenge for a business is taking the time to find particular interest groups and then join in discussions and talk about your career opportunities. This is a way of reaching out to people who would not normally consider a trade apprenticeship. It is a way of introducing the concept to them, letting them know about the experiences of other women in trades and inviting the online audience to talk about your trade.