Embracing the need for equity in our trades this International Women's Day

Published: Feb 28, 2023

By Ron Maxwell - CEO

Next week, individuals, communities and businesses will come together to mark International Women's Day 2023. This year's theme of #EmbraceEquity has me thinking about how far we've come – and how far we have to go.

In my time at VERTO, one area where change has been apparent is in our trades, particularly in traditionally male-dominated roles, such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics and roofers.

More recently than you might think, these roles were 100% male. Today, we are seeing some changes to that composition. However, there is still a long road ahead.

Women make up just 11% of the trade apprentices who qualified in the last five years, but we are seeing slightly higher numbers of women commencing apprenticeships, sitting at 14%, according to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

And while this indicates some growth, it's not happening fast enough. Just 13% of Australia's construction industry employees are female, and women represent just 2% of all qualified tradespeople in NSW.

Trade careers can be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling for many women, not to mention lucrative. With talent shortages plaguing many of our trade industries, wages are competitive and job opportunities abound.

So why aren't we seeing more women actively choosing these career paths? There are numerous reasons, and it's essential to discuss them if we are going to effect real change.

Stereotypes remain a roadblock

Trades were once considered 'jobs for the boys'. Unfortunately, we still see that stereotype prevailing in many career programs, schools and even homes.

There is a definite gender bias when discussing career options. NSW Government reports show that many female students aren't told about apprenticeship pathways and often have limited access to trade-based subjects.

These stereotypes can make their way into employment too, and there are stories of women being disadvantaged or treated differently on trade sites. But while these stories are out there, there are also a great many success stories.

Some recent examples here at VERTO include Abbey, who is embracing success as an electrical apprentice, and Meliha, who is forging a career in roofing. Alongside a love for their trades and the tenacity to follow their career dreams, these two path-breaking women have strong support networks at home and in the workplace.

These networks are beneficial for any young person starting out in their career, but they are vital for those who are taking a path less travelled.

Support networks can help

Whether it’s through employers, government or industry, support for women in trades is a must. While we have made leaps and bounds in many areas, trade careers still have additional challenges for female apprentices and qualified workers alike.

In 2022, the Federal Government pledged $38.6m to increase the number of women in trades. Locally, the NSW Government's Women in Trades program is building pathways that include support, education and awareness programs to champion women in trades.

There are also several not-for-profit organisations empowering more women to forge a career in our trades, such as Tradeswomen Australia. Another great initiative is SALT, which started with seven female tradies coming together to support each other in 2009.

VERTO is also passionate about continual growth in this area – not only through the ongoing promotion of career paths for women in non-traditional trades but also by providing the best support possible to those already engaged in these industries.

In our own business, 77% of the workforce identifies as female, and we are keen to support an uplift across the industries and employers we serve.

It's time to take action

With these government initiatives, I genuinely hope we can encourage more women into our trade industries. It's important that we move beyond conversation and take direct action that changes perceptions in our schools, communities and workplaces.

Trades are one of Australia's last heavily male-dominated industries, but there is no good reason why this should be so. Women are thriving in trade careers, forging new paths and reshaping the future of industries.

Not only is this a critical goal for equality and to help individuals reach their potential, but it's also crucial to the future of these industries. With many of our traditional trades facing dire skills shortages, it doesn't make sense to simply accept such low numbers of women in our trades.

Women account for more than half of the Australian population, so it's time we ask why they are so poorly represented in our trades – and what we can do about it.