Skilled trades make the world go round. Skilled trade workers keep our lights on, run our plumbing systems, and fix our cars. Having a skilled trade means that you have a specialized skill that requires on-the-job training, technical school training, or community college training. With the extra training, you gain access to skilled trade jobs. Categories of skilled trades include construction, automotive, manufacturing, and service trades.
Skilled trades include more than just electrician or mechanic jobs. Trades for women that are pretty common in the manufacturing industry include being a baker, jeweler, or even a tailor. Service industry trades include hairstylists, arborists, and occupational therapy assistants.
In World War II, women took up the skilled trade jobs in the factories until their husbands came back to support their families. Once the men returned, women went back to working mainly in administrative, childcare, and clerical jobs that didn’t pay them as well. Today, women in the trades still represent a small percentage of skilled trade workers for a variety of reasons.
It’s time for women to start taking skilled trade jobs more than ever before. With women making up only 8.9% of the construction workforce, women should take advantage of the opportunity to receive better pay and possibly become a boss.
Skilled Trades Shortage
The Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that skilled trade employment will increase by 8.4 million jobs in the future. Many of the workers in plumbing, welding, and construction are over 45 and will retire soon. One global study found that there will be a shortage of 85 million people by 2030. Despite the need for skilled trade workers, many women overlook pursuing a career in a skilled trade, but there are other reasons for the shortage.
Many colleges and universities cut funding for vocational training. With fewer vocational classes offered, students choose to earn Bachelor’s degrees that may not translate to specific skilled work. High schools also push students to attend universities rather than community or vocational colleges. Even if you want to apply for a skilled trade job, many employers refuse to hire someone without having prior training or experience in the field.
The best way to fill the gap for skilled trades would be to increase the number of women working in the field. Despite skilled trades being touted as a male-dominated field, a 2016 study found that companies that employed more women outperformed companies that didn’t. Having more women in the workforce will help fill the shortage left behind by retiring workers. It worked when men fought in World War II, so it should work today too.
Statistics of Women in Skilled Trade Jobs
Women make up a ridiculously small amount of the skilled trade job market. Only 8.9% of skilled trade workers are women. If the skilled trade job market brought more women into the mix, that percentage should increase to almost 50%. Broken down further, women make up only 1.2% of construction workers, 4.8% of welders, 2.4% of electricians, 1.7% of carpenters, 1.6% of plumbers, and 1.2% of HVAC technicians. These jobs can become some of the best trades for women because there is less competition.
The world needs more women to fill the void left by retiring skilled trade workers. By taking up a skilled trade position in construction or plumbing, women make more money than in their administrative, clerical, or childcare jobs. With a Bachelor’s degree, women make about $40,000 a year. With a skilled trade, women can make up to six figures by running a business advertising their skills.
Although the solution to filling the global shortage and filling the skilled trade job market is the same, women entering the skilled trades sphere won’t be a walk in the park. Women face challenges in the workplace that magnify when they choose to enter male-dominated fields. Addressing these challenges head-on will lead to success for women pursuing a skilled trade.
Challenges/Obstacles Women Face in Skilled Trades
Despite all of the progress made to support women in the workforce, women still face challenges in the workforce. In the U.S., women earn $0.79 for every dollar a man earns. African-American women earn even less with only $0.62 for every white, non-Hispanic man’s dollar earned. The wage gap is just one of the obstacles women face in the workplace.
Outside of the wage gap, women continue to face sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexism can come in the form of not receiving equal training for jobs or being unaccepted by coworkers. Since there are few women in the skilled trade field, many feel isolated from their male peers. There will be less support for women taking up skilled labor jobs. This could lead to women overworking themselves to prove that they do their job correctly. Sexual harassment occurs in corporate settings or trade jobs. With macho culture surrounding the skilled trade market, women may face aggressive advances from men. Some men may feel that trade jobs for women are an invasion of their field.
With skilled trade jobs, women also face challenges in balancing their work and lives. In the U.S., many women continue to be the main caretaker in their families. If something happens to their children or significant other, women take up the role to care for them. Employers may refuse to hire women because of their obligations to their families.
Pathways for Women to Enter Skilled Trades
If you’re interested in pursuing a skilled trade, making the choice to be employed or employ others should be your first step. Do you want to run a business? Would you rather be employed by someone else? By asking these questions, you can move forward and weigh your options.
Depending on where you live, your local government may mandate skilled trade employers to give on-the-job training. In other places, the government may require employees to have formal vocational school training and on-the-job training.
As an employee, facing the wage gap and sexism will often be inevitable. But in return, you will gain a job that pays more than administrative or clerical ones. Instead of searching for people to hire you, your company will give you work to do for your salary. Although it may not be glamorous, being employed by a company can provide a steady source of income for you and your family.
Although this option takes a lot more work, skilled trade entrepreneurs can make up to six figures through a self-start-up. Women who choose to start a business have the power to control their pay, the amount of work they receive, and the amount of time they spend with their businesses.
The downside and benefits of becoming an entrepreneur are the same, you become your own boss. This means that you will be in charge of building your brand and reputation. You will also need to create a business plan and advertise to receive more customers.
Getting Your Education
Once you determine how you will enter the skilled trades workforce, you will need to pick a trade and determine how you will learn the skills of the trade. There are a few routes you can take to gain the skills you need to start your career. You can get an apprenticeship, go to a career and technical center, or go to a college or university that offers your skill.
Before applying for a job as an apprentice, going through a pre-apprenticeship program would be ideal for any newcomer to the skilled trade field. After completing the program, which can take up 1 to 6 years depending on the trade, you will gain access to a network of professionals looking for apprentices. From there, you gain more skills on the job.
Career and Technical Education (CTE)
Offered to high schoolers and adults alike, Career and Technical Education centers are the perfect opportunity to gain skills for trades. Similar to pre-apprenticeships, joining a CTE can give you access to a network of internships and professionals that can help you on your education journey. They offer 16 career clusters along with 79 different career pathways for their students.
Colleges or Universities
Even with the push to cut funding for vocational training in universities, many institutions of higher education still offer skilled trade training. However, going to a university is likely to be more expensive than commuting to a local community college for training. Ultimately, choosing between a university or college for training depends on what trades each school offers and your individual preferences.
Additional Resources: Labor Unions and Scholarships
With the economy facing an unprecedented halt, paying for schooling may be more difficult now than ever before. One of the best ways to pay for school is by applying for scholarships. Since women continue to face hardships breaking into the skilled trade job market, many schools offer scholarships specifically for women. Before applying to a community college or university, research what kind of scholarships they offer. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many universities in the U.S. received extra money to assist their students through the CARES Act. Contact your preferred school and ask them about what they are offering to students.
After completing school, joining an association or labor union for women in skilled trade jobs should be your next step. Many labor unions advocate for gender equality and higher wages for their members. Being a member of one will allow you to reap the benefits of having a network of people to fall back on. If you start as an entrepreneur, you can gain more resources to access customers. If you start as an employee, the labor union will fight for you against workplace discrimination.
The world is facing a shortage of skilled trade workers. Making trades for women more common could help fill the approaching gap. By committing to pursuing a skilled trade job, women can earn bigger salaries with a two-year degree or less. Although women will face challenges entering the skilled labor workforce, they can overcome these challenges through labor unions and running small businesses with their trades. Switch to a skilled trade career today to make more money and fill the need for skilled workers.
Further Resources for Women