Women in the Trades: A Vast, Neglected Resource
No discussion of self-help recruiting would be complete without considering the advice Abigail Adams gave to her husband, then-congressman John Adams, when drafting the laws governing our new American experiment. “I desire you would remember the ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors,” advised Abigail.
Of course, Abigail wouldn’t dream of a woman picking up a sledgehammer or wielding a crowbar in a colonial construction project. But, before World War II, no one could imagine a woman lifting a rivet gun in a defense production factory.
Rosie the Riveter Was a Pioneer
Many of our more recent ancestors are familiar with the iconic poster of a female factory worker flexing her muscle with the caption, “We can do it!” This more glamorous version of Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post cover of Rosie the Riveter was designed to recruit women to the workforce to replace wartime manpower shortages.
But as the war ended, those hardy women were forced to give those jobs back to the men returning from war. Worse, before the men returned, the women were paid an hourly wage of about 50 percent of what their male counterparts were making.
Skilled Trades Need More Women
Even today, the residual perceptions of which jobs are and are not suitable for women is still deeply ingrained in our culture. Luckily, women have made huge strides in many previously all-male occupations, including the police and the military. Unfortunately, women have yet to make large strides in the trades industry. The statistics of women in field service jobs amount to only about 9 percent. They range from just 1.2 percent for construction and HVAC technicians, topping out at 4.8 percent for welders.
So, it follows that much can be done to shore up the growing shortages in skilled trades by zeroing in on the remaining 50 percent of our population. In fact, those few women already in the trades should be encouraged to view themselves as door tenders, keeping the gateway open for more women to come in behind them.
Overcoming Stereotypes and Misconceptions about Women in the Trades
In his book, Blue Is the New White, Josh Zolin debunks the notion that the trades are just for men. “The idea that the trades are for men comes from the outdated belief that manual labor is men’s work—too difficult and physically strenuous for women,” states Zolin.
He goes on to state that this notion is purely myth. “I know some badass women who run laps around their male counterparts,” said Josh. “Women are more than physically capable of doing the work of the trades, and there’s plenty of women who absolutely love it.”
One of Josh’s colleagues, Bethany Hay, is a Tucson branch manager who wished she was taught “how a woman could succeed in the trades” in high school. “Women may think there are prejudices and obstacles, but there aren’t,” says Bethany. “If you’re a hard worker, you’re going to be respected by your peers as much as a man is.”
Josh concludes that, while women have made some inroads into the trades, “we can use even more.” It is, according to Josh, a win-win situation. “Women can get expanded career opportunities, and the trades get a strengthening and unique perspective,” states Zolin.
So, what benefits can women bring to the trades?
It’s not just about alleviating some of the strain and challenges the trades are facing due to the growing labor shortage. There are several additional benefits and perspectives that the industry can benefit from by bringing more women into the fold, including:
- Some customers may feel more comfortable having a woman in their home than a man.
- Women are naturally more skilled in some areas than men. They are detail-oriented, often more open-minded, more collaborative, and provide the kind of social balance the field needs.
- Since our population is half female, the more women who get into the trades, the more will follow and public perceptions and attitudes will change.
For example, in HVAC, women are especially suited because of their better communications skills. They are typically better educated, pay attention to detail, and have the customer service skills that encourage repeat business. (Read more about successful women in HVAC in this article.)
There Are Resources to Help Recruit Women
There are many resources skilled trades companies can do to help alleviate the trades gap and attract newer trades workers, and those measures apply equally to women. Focus on the ladies, and apply Abigail Adams’ advice to your approach.
There is help out there. The following are a few of the non-traditional employment resources to help women face and overcome the challenges of working in the blue-collar world:
- WANTO (Women’s Apprenticeships and Nontraditional Occupations Act).
Enacted in 1992, this legislation provides technical assistance to both employers and labor unions “to encourage employment of women in apprentice-able and nontraditional occupations.” WANTO provides federal grants to nationwide organizations to help recruit women. In 2011 the GAO praised WANTO as “one of three programs providing specialized services to populations not targeted by any other of the programs.”
- MCAA (The Mechanical Contractors Association of America)
This is an outstanding resource for over 2,600 firms involved in heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, plumbing, piping, and mechanical service. The MCAA is a repository and provider of high-quality educational materials for its members. MCAA’s WiMI (Women in the Mechanical Industry) initiative is a mentoring resource for women.
- NEW (Nontraditional Employment for Women)
NEW is a New York City based organization that prepares, trains and helps place women in careers in skilled trades. This program provides training and placement for women into high paying jobs. NEW also advertises a “support system “to help women prepare to work in a predominantly male environment.”
- TWI, Inc. (Tradeswomen, Inc.)
Women looking for entry into apprenticeships in California can get a head start through this program funded in part by WANTO grants. TWI is part of the Western Resource Center for Women and Girls in Apprenticeship.
- Women of HVAC
This organization’s goal is to “bring awareness and showcase stories from women in the (HVAC) field” as well as “provide necessary tools to start a successful HVAC career.
Women are 50 percent of our population, but occupy less than 10 percent of our skilled trades jobs. In order to help overcome the growing trades gap that is impacting the field service industry, we must overcome the notion that “women’s work” cannot include skilled trades. Women are as skilled and mechanically adept as men, and they bring a fresh perspective to the trades industry. In your recruitment efforts, don’t forget to focus on women.
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