The national skills shortage has been a persistent problem for the Australian Government. Despite policy makers and industry heavyweights trying to diversify worksites around the country, there's still one group that is virtually unrepresented: women.
Sweeping changes to the workforce in the past two decades have seen women begin to chip away at roles traditionally reserved for men. However the number of female apprentices in construction has remained stubbornly unchanged. Women make up only three per cent of those employed in the fields of electrotechnology and telecommunications and a dismal one per cent in construction and automotive.
The Grattan Institute have published findings saying that boosting the female workforce by just six per cent could jump start our economy, adding an extra $25 billion over a decade. Economists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have also found that increasing diversity in industry is great for the bottom line. The research found businesses could increase revenue by up to 41 per cent, and a Harvard Business Review study found that hiring more women could also increase efficiency. Getting more women into construction could also help lessen the gender pay gap. Women in trades increase their earning capacity greatly, with jobs in construction consistently out-earning other traditionally feminine apprenticeships such as hairdressing and child care.
A report by the New South Wales Government found that the reason we don’t see more women signing onto apprenticeships in male dominated trades comes down to two things: practical barriers and cultural barriers. Female tradies reported that they were overlooked when it came to basic necessities on the worksite. There were rarely female-friendly toilets, and uniforms and personal protective equipment such as gloves and goggles didn’t fit.
Culturally, the construction industry still struggles to make room for women. Sexual harassment is rife, with some female apprentices saying they had trouble earning the respect of their peers and getting basic help in their training. For men and women alike, the persistent misconception that trades are for men who aren’t academically minded continues to plague the industry and rob construction of positive role models.
Educators and demographers believe representation matters. Getting more female tradies into schools to talk to female students about their industry and getting schools to actively encourage young women into trades may help to shift cultural perceptions. Employers would also benefit from setting up mentorships, ensuring they have adequate policies relating to sexual harassment. Having suitably sized uniforms and protective wear will also help keep women safe on site as well as demonstrate they are valued members of the team.