It’s no secret that women are a traditionally underrepresented group in the trades. Although they make up half of the general workforce, as of 2022, women account for only 2.3% of HVAC techs and installers, 2.2% of electricians, and 1.1% of plumbers according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, this has not always been the case. Looking back as recently as World Wars I & II, hundreds of thousands of women took jobs as welders, electricians, mechanics, and more, entering industries like manufacturing, aircraft, automotive, and many others.
While many of the women who joined the trades during the wars may have only done so temporarily, this does show us that there has never been a lack of interest or ability when it comes to women in the skilled trades. When given the opportunity to join the trades, women excel.
It should come as no surprise that careers in the trades have much to offer women; from abstract factors like the satisfaction of seeing your completed work and not being tied to a desk, to more tangible benefits like the ability to earn a good salary without being mired in student loan debt.
Recruiting more women to the trades is an opportunity that the industry cannot ignore. Construction firms are already dealing with record numbers of unfilled job openings, and with 41% of the current workforce expected to retire by 2031, it is no surprise that 80% of companies have been reporting difficulties with finding enough workers.
Women have more to offer the industry than simple numbers, though. Not only can they learn and excel in all the necessary skills and techniques, their inclusion can also boost a team’s capabilities for creative problem solving – and they can be a catalyst for the industry’s ability to drive innovation as a whole.
Recruiting, training, and retaining women in the trades could be the key to ending the industry’s workforce shortage. But where to start?
In a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) on women in the construction industry, only 6.0% of respondents said they heard about trade opportunities from high school guidance counselors.
Now is the perfect time to change this. The CHIPS and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and especially the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 has created a significant opportunity to address the industry’s recruiting struggles by investing in workforce development and setting goals for increasing opportunities for new tradespeople to learn skills, find apprenticeship opportunities, and deal with barriers like creating more respectful workplaces and childcare solutions.
Construction companies should be looking to partner with local trade schools, career centers, and community colleges to specifically spotlight the opportunities and benefits of the skilled trades for women.
The first step to solving the industry’s recruiting shortages and adding more women to its ranks is increased, dedicated, targeted recruitment and improved access for women and other groups who have been traditionally underutilized, but who have no lack of interest or capability.
It’s no secret that organizations with greater diversity are consistently more successful, more effective at solving problems, and more profitable. That’s why women are not only needed in the field, but also the front office. New trends show that more women in construction are achieving executive and chief-level positions than ever. Of the top 100 construction companies, 44 have executives who are women, and approximately 13% of construction firms are now owned by women, which is a growth of 94% since 2007.
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