Why More Women Are Considering Careers in the Trades

Gone are the days when only men filled jobs in construction. There has never been a better time for women to consider a career in the trades.

When you think of the trade industry, the image of a brawny man in dirty work boots may come to mind. But this lingering stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth.

During World War II women cemented their place in the skilled labor force, filling positions they were often excluded from while the men went off to fight. Today, with gender roles changing and trade industry opportunities for women increasing, we’re seeing more and more women considering careers in the trades.

Young Women Showing Increased Interest in the Trades

A recent National Kitchen & Bath Association career survey of high school students showed interest levels in skilled trade careers are almost as high among females as males. Interest in remodeling and renovation ranked highest for females with high school class/training programs, largely derived from social media and working on home improvement projects.

While learning a new skill and good pay were some of the perceived benefits of the trade industry, the study also indicated demanding physical work and a skepticism about salaries were some of the drawbacks.

Emily Pilloton is the founder and executive director of Girls Garage, a nonprofit design-and-build program and dedicated workspace for girls and female-identifying youths ages nine to 18. Pilloton and the 460 “fierce builder girls” she and her team have mentored since 2013 have designed and built more than 130 projects of varying sizes and scopes.

“I’m thrilled to even be having this conversation,” Pilloton told Family Handyman. “The more stories about women in the trades, the better.”

What’s Behind the Shift?

Over the past few years, there has been a growing shortage of skilled trades workers in specific areas. The American Welding Society predicts a need for 400,000 more welders by 2024. In HVAC and electric, job openings are expected to grow by 14 percent through 2024. Since women make up less than 10 percent of skilled trade jobs in the country, according to Career School Now, many trades are looking at women to fill some of these roles.

Despite the desire to fill open roles with qualified women candidates, Pilloton stresses the danger of brands, companies and communities “tokenizing” women in the trades. She urges decision-makers to see women not as something different on the jobsite but just as “talented, professional people who are an integral part of the trades.”

Marketing to women often starts early. Camps such as Girls Garage, Girls Build and Tools and Tiaras help introduce young girls to the trades. In 2015, the Women in Trucking Association worked with the Girl Scouts to create a badge for trucking. Likewise, Girls Garage has awarded more than 1,000 achievement badges to girls mastering new tools and skills.

Benefits of Becoming a Tradeswoman

HVAC technicians, welders, construction managers, electricians, plumbers — you can train and become one of these skilled tradespeople in roughly half the time and at half the cost than if you spent four years at an expensive university.

Consider: The average cost of a four-year college degree is well over $100,000. A trade school can take less than a year to complete and costs, on average, less than $35,000. So you could be earning money at a trade job long before a college graduate makes their first student loan payment.

Speaking of salary, depending on the trade you could expect to earn about $50,000 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And with the right opportunities for advancement, working your way into a construction management position could net you in the six-figure range.

Trade careers also offer a hands-on environment that’s fast-paced and ever-changing. In addition there is great job security, as the gap in qualified individuals with trade knowledge and skills in America widens at an alarming rate.

There Are Challenges, Too

Unfortunately, women still face a variety of challenges and obstacles in male-dominated industries, including stereotypes, lack of mentoring and sexual harassment. While women account for more than half of all workers within several industry sectors in the U.S., they’re still substantially underrepresented in careers like construction and manufacturing.

As more and more women fill some of these jobs, the need for fair representation increases. Various support networks like Professional Women in Construction aim to support women in these fields and promote workplace diversity.

“I say this to my girls all the time … you can be any type of woman and work in STEM (or the skilled trades),” Pilloton says. “There is always someone you can look to, who looks like you, who has a story like you and who has walked the path before you so you don’t think you’re doing it for the first time alone.”

How Women Can Get Started

With all the different trades out there, figuring out which one is right for you is the first step in a career in the industry. Career assessments can help you hone in on what might fit you best. Be sure to research career fairs in your area that focus on the trade industry.

If you already have an idea of what you’d like to do, seek out apprenticeships or assistant positions in your trade of choice. Some states require on-the-job training and classroom education to receive specific licenses or certifications. Many community colleges also offer trade certificates and pathways to apprenticeships. Check out which vocational schools are reputable, and which ones offer good training and job placement programs.