Skilled labor shortage. Sky-high college costs. A rocky job outlook. These tough realities plague millions of Americans, but are perfect conditions for men, and especially women, seeking a stable and rewarding career in a skilled and even specialized vocation within the trades.
For decades, America encouraged young people to pursue four-year degrees. As a result, general contractors, plumbers, carpenters, and ironworkers are now in high demand.
But trade careers are attractive for more reasons than just job availability. Because it’s essential to infrastructure, skilled labor is generally less susceptible to economic fluctuations. Vocational training can usually be completed for a fraction of the cost of a four-year degree. And finally, most skilled trade jobs pay well from the start.
So why are women particularly well positioned for work in the trades? It boils down to this: Women are just as capable as men, and times are changing – yes, even in notoriously male-dominated fields. Although females make up fewer than three percent of construction laborers and two percent of carpenters and electricians , their presence increases year after year as gender perceptions evolve. In fact, many employers are actively seeking women to fill roles in the trades.
As the saying goes, though, getting started is sometimes the hardest part. Most women did not grow up seeing fellow women represented in these areas, and some have reservations about the male-dominated aspect of the work. This is why Danella has compiled the following ways females can learn more about life as a skilled tradesperson before jumping in:
1) Check out professional associations
National and international professional associations exist for every skilled labor specialty, and most specialties have female specific national associations and divisions, too. Research their websites and consider reaching out for honest, proof-based insights on training, scholarships, and what to expect in the skilled labor workplace:
2) Connect with a female tradesperson
Most trade associations, vocational schools, and labor unions are willing to help connect established tradeswomen with women interested in learning more about their careers.
Two words of wisdom before you ask someone to share their experience: First, understand that safety and/or union regulations might prohibit you from shadowing them at a jobsite. Secondly, remember that time is valuable. Clarify and quantify your request and keep it within reason. A 30-minute phone call, an email exchange, or an hour on a jobsite (when possible) are reasonable requests. A vague, “Can I pick your brain?” might not be so well received!
3) Connect with a male tradesperson
Want to get a sense for work in a male dominated mostly-male field? Reach out to a tradesman! Use the same guidelines outlined above to ask him about the ins and outs of what he does each day.
4) Be all ears!
Podcasts are popular, so it’s no surprise that a few of them touch upon the topic of female laborers. The Women in Construction Summit highlighted six relevant female-led podcasts, and the Working Women Podcast offers episodes about women in the trades.
The trades aren’t for all women, but they are a fit for many. Danella continues to feature Women in Construction, and we encourage you to learn more by reading some of our features.