Women In The Trades

Why We Need Women In The Skilled Trades

Richard Stockton
Sr. Writer

Posted 03/02/2020

In a lot of ways, women in the American labor force are doing great. Young women outnumber young men in workforce participation, for example, and women's unemployment numbers are noticeably better than men's in several key demographics. This is especially true for women ages 16 to 19 and 20 to 24 — the crucial years when young workers are picking a career many of them will have for the rest of their lives.

Some of the best places to find women at work are in the office, middle-management and customer service fields. They make up a crushing majority of nurses, teachers and other workers with bachelor's degrees. Women are also well-represented as secretaries, administrative assistants and housekeepers. And if you're looking for cashiers, three out of four of your new hires will be women.

One place where women are not doing great is in the trades. If you work in the trades and spend your time just with coworkers, you could almost forget that women exist at all. In a room with 1,000 randomly chosen bricklayers, 993 of them will be men. Drywall, ceiling and tile installers have a similar ratio. Women make up less than 3% of pipelayers, 2% of roofers and under 1% of iron and steel workers.

This is bad for women, but it's also bad for the trades. In one of the highest-paying trades, HVAC technician, entry-level workers can make over $47,000 a year with a high school diploma and some training. Yet just 1.6% of the workers in this field are women. Electricians can expect to earn over $55,000 as entry-level workers, which is good news to the 2.2% of electricians who are women, but not so great for the 71.3% of restaurant servers who are female and earn a median pay of around $10 an hour.

Women in the Trades: 2020 Outlook

So why should you care about women in the trades? What does it matter if less than 1% of your bricklayers are women or if 99 out of 100 of your welders are men? Well, the federal government cares, at least a little. Executive Order 11246 addresses the Equal Opportunity practices of federal contractors, a huge number of which are trade-based. Construction companies that do business with the government, as well as electrical, plumbing, paving, maintenance and other private employers, are required by law to make a good faith effort to include minority workers. Guidelines are partly advisory, especially since so few women can be found to work in the trades, but preference is given to contractors that at least get close to their area's target percentage.

If you manage a company that does business with the federal government or with some state governments, filing the necessary OFCCP reports to show you have above the target of female employees can make a difference in the bidding process. If you offer on-the-job training, there are even federal grant opportunities to help you employ and train more women.

A Woman's Place in the Skilled Trades

The benefits of having women work in the trades go beyond the narrow interest of employers and well into the good of both women and the economy at large. Women who develop an interest in learning a skilled trade enjoy all the same benefits men do. Skilled trades hold the promise of higher pay for less investment in college than most traditionally female fields, such as nursing and primary education.

The solid benefits and potential for freelance work, or for outright self-employment with little cash up front, are also a powerful draw for young women who might want to take a few years off to have children in their 20s or early 30s. These are some of the most productive years for college-educated professionals, such as lawyers and doctors, and taking this time off can seriously hurt women's chances of success. As trades workers, however, the sacrifice of a few years' leave is comparatively minor and easy to catch up with when the kids are in school.

On a social level, more women in the trades can go a long way toward improving how such work gets done. First, there's the good example a female bricklayer or machinist sets for other girls, who might feel falsely caught between life as an office clerk or the wife of a higher-earning husband.

Another benefit is the different perspective women bring from men to the job itself. While it can be argued there is no "female method" for wiring up a house or stripping roof tiles, there certainly is a female method for talking the wife of a potential customer into agreeing to have work done in the first place.

A woman's point of view can also come in handy if your company's work has an aesthetic aspect to it, such as tile laying or decorative carpentry. In a shop with nine male cabinet makers, hearing the ideas of a single woman might decisively broaden your offerings and point toward new ways to get things done that you just hadn't thought of before.

Encouragement and Access

No man is an island, and no woman plans out her career from high school on with zero input from other people. To succeed in the trades, young women must first think of it as an option and pursue it. The second step is validation from older, trusted adults that appliance technician, plumbing or another non-traditionally female job is a viable choice for a young person who might only know female office workers, post-graduate professionals and stay-at-home moms. Finally, women who've settled on a trade need access to training and employment opportunities like anybody else.

Generation T is on a mission to change young people's lives. We do this by training ambitious young workers up in the skilled trades, who will make up a large part of the economy of the future. If you know a young woman who might be up to the challenge of a career in the trades, you can be a pivotal influence in her life by steering her toward our unique training opportunities and job board.