Women in the Trades, Statistics and Perceptions
When you picture a construction worker, plumber, electrician or pipefitter, what image comes to mind? Most people imagine a burly, middle-aged man, wearing overalls, covered in dirt or grease. Trades jobs have been predominantly dominated by men throughout history. Across Canada women are still under-represented in the industry.
The Status of Women in Canada factsheet (http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/initiatives/wesp-sepf/fs-fi/es-se-eng.html) stated, “In 2014 women represented 47.3 % of the labour force. Women aged 15 years and over were most likely to be employed in sales and service occupations (27.1%).” It also states, “Women continue to have low representation in the skilled trades and other traditionally male dominated professions. For example in 2012, women held just 11.8% of the construction jobs, 19% of forestry, fishing, mining, oil and gas jobs, and 30.5% of agriculture jobs. In 2011 women accounted for only 2% of carpentry apprentices, 1.9% of plumbing apprentices and 1.5% of heavy equipment apprentices.”
So why are there so few women working in the trades? An article on the website TalentEgg.com (http://talentegg.ca/incubator/2012/03/12/women-working-skilled-trades/) suggests “even in this day and age, women can be discriminated against in the skilled trades workforce. Women are usually in the top 10-15% in their class, but they are almost always among the last 10% to get hired.”
The Government of Canada Skilled Trades website points out another reason there are fewer people in general working in the industry. It says there is a “negative perception towards skilled trades among youth and their influences, with many believing that these jobs are low paying, involve physical work, are dirty, and are less academically challenging.”
Though this may be a common perception, it isn’t entirely true. The work may be more physical than an office job, but it can also be rewarding. Imagine being able to drive by a building, knowing you helped construct it. Stats Canada stated on average trades employees make $22.36/hour. Canadianbusiness.com stated in 2014, Electrician and Telecommunications Contractor held the number 10 spot on the Top 10 Best Jobs in Canada, with a median salary of $72,800/ year.
Many skilled trades’ workers are hard-working individuals. Although a lot of people feel the trades are for students who are less academically inclined; this is also another myth. Trades workers need to have a good academic foundation with knowledge in math, literacy, problem solving and analytical skills. Depending on the type of trade you pursue you could be deciphering complex blueprints on a construction site, operating technical equipment, or installing intricate plumbing systems at an industrial site.
There are a number of apprenticeship programs geared toward women. You can search online to see what’s available in your area. In Ontario there is a website with information on Women in Skilled Trades and Information Technology: http://www.grants.gov.on.ca/GrantsPortal/en/OntarioGrants/GrantOpportunities/OSAPQA005168.
Careersintrades.ca (http://www.careersintrades.ca/) has information on how to get started.
If you think you might be interested in pursuing a career in a skilled trade, it’s always a good idea to talk to someone who currently works in the field. They will be able to explain the ins and outs of the job, tell you what is involved, and what it is really like to work on a job site. They can also give you an idea of job availability and pay. You could also do a work study or internship, which will provide you with the hands on training and experience. This will be a great way to see if you like the job and the work environment, and to decide if the trades are the right field for you.