Women in Skilled Trades-In High Demand
During World War II, men went overseas, and women stepped into the roles men had to leave. It was then that Rosie the Riveter was born, and jobs like welding, mechanics, and electricians were all filled by women who fought the war on the homefront by getting ‘er done. Once the war ended, life went back to normal. Women headed back to the their prewar positions, and men took back their trade jobs. To this day, men still dominate most of the skilled trade jobs.
Currently, America is looking at a huge shortage of skilled workers in trade jobs. Many trades are turning toward the untapped population of females, in hopes of encouraging them to pursue trades.
Women make up almost half of the United States workforce. They are very underrepresented in the male-heavy skilled trade jobs, in positions that they would be equally, if not better qualified. Why is that? Why don’t women go into trades where they are the minority and start tipping the scale?
What’s being done in the industry to make skilled trades — a world where six figures are attainable within several years after high school, where training can be attained with little to no debt — more attractive to females? Explore the facts about women in trades by reading on.
THE SHORTAGE OF SKILLED TRADES WORKERS
For the last few years, there’s a growing shortage of skilled trades workers in areas such welding, electric, plumbing, and mechanics. With a wide majority of the workers being age 45 and over, retirement is just around the corner, which will only increase the deficit. This means many trades are starting to look at the untapped female population to fill those opening roles.
During World War II, we saw an increase of support for women and trade. The work climate is headed back to that mindset. Trades are looking for women to step in and work to repair and rebuild our country. The American Welding Society predicts there will be a shortage of over 400,000 welders by 2024. In HVAC and electric, job openings will grow by 14 percent through 2024.
WOMEN IN SKILLED TRADES ROLES
Fifty years ago, the most typical female career was as a secretary. Guess what? That still holds true today. Girls and women are rarely told that construction or other trade jobs are right for them. However, there’s absolutely no reason that a woman can’t pick up tools and get the job done with proficiency.
A study done in May 2016 by Morgan Stanley found that companies that were more gender-diverse outperformed those who weren’t. Even though studies show gender diversity is beneficial, women are still being excluded from trade jobs employment and apprenticeships. Despite an Executive Order drafted in 1978 that, in no uncertain terms, banned any and all types of discrimination by government contractors, the order didn’t do much to a) stop gender discrimination in its many forms, or b) encourage women to pursue trade skill careers.
STATISTICS OF WOMEN IN TRADE JOBS
As we know, it’s uncommon to see a woman performing a skilled trade, although not unheard of. Women just aren’t the dominant presence in skilled trade careers, aside from medical, cosmetology, and culinary. However, over half of the homes in America are being supported, one way or another, by the woman head of household.
- In 2014, there were almost 10 million skilled trade workers in the United States. Of those, only 872,000, roughly 8.9 percent, were women.
- Women in construction make up 1.2 percent of all skilled workers. To break it down even further, here’s how women are represented in five popular skilled trades: welders, 4.8 percent; electricians, 2.4 percent; carpenters, 1.7 percent; plumbers, 1.6 percent; HVAC technicians, 1.2 percent.
- In the United States, women earn 82.1 percent of what men make. But in the construction sector, the gender gap isn’t quite as wide. Women earn an average of 93.4 percent of men’s earnings.
- Women earn $0.79 to every dollar a man makes. It takes an extra four months for a woman to make the save median average salary that a man makes.
- Female full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree earn a median annual salary of almost $40,000, but experienced women in trades can make over six figures a year.
And trucking is looking for women, too.
OBSTACLES FOR WOMEN IN TRADES TO OVERCOME
Despite all the positives, trades aren't a unicorn. Women in the workforce can face the following issues, and skilled positions are not exempt.
- Sexism/sexual discrimination: Sexism is the number one obstacle for women in trades to overcome. Sexism is a prevalent issue that doesn’t always go corrected. If companies would continue to create and strictly enforce policies, then maybe more women would, without hesitation, consider trade careers.
- Sexual harassment: Way too often reports of sexual harassment are filed by women having to deal with unwanted and sometimes aggressive advances by male coworkers, whether in corporate settings or in the trades.
- Equal pay: Making pay directly related to the position, not the gender, will entice more women into the workforce. Women in mostly female jobs such as childcare workers, teachers’ aids, and cashiers earn almost $200 less weekly than male-dominated jobs. Factor in race, and the disparities are even greater.
- Finding a work/life balance: Work/life balance is one of the most difficult issues facing working moms. The guilt of not being fully present at home weighs just as heavily as the guilt related to not bringing in needed income. Companies with flexible work policies pair perfectly with working moms.
Other issues women face are hostility and jealousy, assumptions from male coworkers that women can’t do a “man’s” job well, and a lack of mentors. Some women, even with all the required certifications and qualifications, find themselves behind a desk instead of in the field.
As such, over the decades, national organizations have formed to change the stigma of women in male-dominated workplaces.
ASSOCIATIONS FOR WOMEN IN TRADES
To create equality and ethics, and eliminate barriers that prohibit the success of females in trades, a significant amount of associations have been formed. There are many national organizations and even more on a state level. A quick Google search for your state will show you numerous results. You can also contact one of the listed associations; they may be able to give you state-specific information.
- Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Employment for Women (ANEW) was founded in 1980 and is one of the oldest pre-apprenticeship programs for women taking non-traditional career paths. ANEW provides training and job placement for women in the skilled trade work force.
- Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW) is a program that provides instruction and training for women who choose careers in construction. Founded in 1978, NEW is primarily a New York-based program focused on low-income minority women to bring them into skilled, unionized jobs that start at around $17 an hour.
- Pride and Paycheck is a free monthly e-magazine supporting females in skilled trade careers. Much of it is content relayed in stories from other women in trades.
- Hard Hatted Woman is dedicated to help women succeed in trade skills. It helps match qualified female skill workers with jobs.
- National Association of Women in Construction(NAWIC) states on its website that its core purpose is to enhance the success of women in the construction industry. The association aims to raise employer awareness, education women in the construction industry, and to create an infrastructure to meet the needs and goals of women in construction.
- Professional Women in Construction (PWC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of opportunities for women and minorities in nontraditional and minority-owned business roles.
- Women in NonTraditional Employment Roles (WINTER) helps to promote the employment of highly skilled women working in two sectors: poverty-level women and youth to provide “progressive high school education,” training, and employment. The mission is to “empower women to achieve economic self-sufficiency.”
- Women in Trucking (WIT) brings gender diversity to what is considered a heavily male-dominated industry with the hope of alleviating obstacles women face in trucking. The organization focuses on the transportation and logistics industry.
SCHOLARSHIPS FOR WOMEN ENTERING INTO SKILLED TRADES
Going to trade school can take you from the classroom into the workforce relatively quickly, without racking up the debt that would go along with a traditional four-year university. Even more good news—help is available.
For example, in 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor announced $1.9 million available in grants for Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations (WANTO) program, which allocates funds to community-based organizations. Not to mention, women are also eligible to apply for and receive government-allocated educational funds, but you must fill out the FAFSA. Keep in mind, many of the grants and scholarships for women, especially the larger ones, receive a lot of applicants and can be very competitive. Think about looking at the smaller programs; you may have a better chance of getting money, and they can be stacked.
Also, women should look at grants for minorities, grants for female veterans, and grants specifically for women of all ages going into trade jobs.
Grants and scholarships are often available through technical or community colleges, professional trade organizations, state sources, and business and industry. Please take a look at our guide to getting financial aid for trade schools; it’s filled with all the information needed to locate available free funding for vocational school.
Some female-specific scholarship opportunities are through the American Association of University Women, which is awarded to full-time female students who are entering fields where women aren’t represented, such as math, engineering, and sciences. There are a number of female-specific scholarships available for those entering the culinary field, such as Culinary Institute of America (CIA). This specific award is merit-based, and the applicant must carry a GPA of 3.2. Horizon Scholarship for Women in Defense is available for females headed into criminal justice fields. Then there’s The Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation Award, for women who are the minimum of 17, a mom with minor children, and enrolled in a not-for-profit vocational/trade school, college, or university. The Jeanette Rankin Foundation Scholarship is for females aged 35 or older who are going back to school for a vocational/trade degree, associate degree, or their first bachelor’s degree. Make sure to fill out the FAFSA before the October deadline so that you are eligible for any type of financial aid.
It’s NOT just a man’s world, particularly in the trades. With the right training, a career in the skilled trades will provide you not only with a massive amount of job satisfaction but also a true sense of self. There’s nothing like being content with who you are and the direction your life is going!