Career choices for women aren't as limited as they were a few short decades ago, but there are still a few areas where women are seldom seen. Many of those are in the skilled and construction trades, where woman often form 3 percent of the workforce or less according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau. You might not have ever considered working in construction while you were growing up, but it can be a compelling option if you like to work with your hands.
Trades and Women
Chances are, your parents didn't give you a miniature hard hat and tool belt when you were little. Skilled trades haven't been a traditional career path for women, and despite the social changes of the last few decades, they still aren't. As of 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau listed bricklayers, flooring and HVAC installers, mechanics, roofers, carpenters and electricians among the occupations with the lowest rates of employment for women. That's a shame, because your $25.50 per hour average wage as an electrician -- for example -- is more than double the $12.32 you'd make as a nurse's aide. Skilled trades aren't all grunt work, either. Many skilled trades emphasize strong math and technology skills over physical strength.
There are two common paths into the skilled trades. Community and technical colleges offer one- and two-year classroom-based programs. Unions, trade organizations or large employers operate three- to five-year apprenticeships in most trades. Starting in a school can have some advantages. For instance, most schools have relationships with local employers and can help you find a job or an apprenticeship after you graduate. Schools often have state-of-the-art computerized equipment that's still rare on job sites, which can give you a competitive edge against apprentices. If you opt to complete an apprenticeship after school, you can usually get credit for your school-based training.
The trades usually have a strong hands-on orientation and many skills aren't learned from books. That's why learning on the job through an apprenticeship is still one of the best ways to break into a trade. You'll work full time in the field alongside seasoned veterans in the trade, learning from both their guidance and example. Apprenticeships usually include 144 to 200 hours per year of classroom training as well. Apprentices usually start at 40 to 60 percent of a licensed journey person's pay and get a raise after each completed year of the apprenticeship.
Trade unions and various levels of government have initiatives in place to woo women into the skilled trades. For example, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters has its Sisters In the Brotherhood program to encourage women to become carpenters. Although women are slowly finding acceptance -- especially in areas where there's a shortage of skilled tradespeople -- it's seldom easy. A 2010 article in Engineering News-Record found that, despite higher enrollment in apprenticeships and training programs, the number of women in skilled trades remained flat at about 2 percent of all tradespeople. Women fare better in some trades, at over 7 percent of painters and over 5 percent of welders, but overall many women reported feeling shut out of employment opportunities and harassment at the job site can still be an issue.
- U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau: Nontraditional Occupations of Employed Women in 2010
- International Union of Operating Engineers: Women & Apprenticeship -- A Winning Partnership!
- Seattle Woman: Women in the Trades -- What’s Keeping Them Away?
- Engineering News-Record: Skilled Trades Are Tough To Crack; Women Fight To Gain Ground
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.