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Australia Needs More Women in Trades

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As much as we like to think that Australia is a modern, progressive country, the reality is that the gender gap in trades jobs has not had any significant change since the 1980’s. Only 2% of trades roles in Australia are undertaken by women, despite at least 57 of those male-dominated roles being recognised as “skills in short supply”. 

We are also seeing the gender pay gap has increased in the last year, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) saying this is likely due to stimulus of the male-dominated construction industry. Worryingly, according to the current data trend, it will take 26 years to close the gap if there are not major changes in workforce diversity. 

More women in the manual trades sector could help reduce the gender pay gap while providing businesses a skilled and more diverse workforce. 

Barriers for Women 

A Charles Sturt University study identified obstacles for women pursuing trades at every stage of their career, from school - when girls are more likely to be pushed towards higher education than a trade compared to boys - through to a lack of appropriate facilities such as toilets and changerooms for women on worksites. 

Another significant factor to improving women's longevity in the manual trades is education about appropriate workplace behaviour, with issues around bullying and harassment, ‘jokes’ and sexualising other people being earmarked as of significance to school-leavers and women considering manual trades as a profession. 

The Victorian Government’s Women in Construction Strategy cites a number of barriers for women and girls seeking a career in the construction industry. The main barriers for entry include:

  • failure to promote construction and trades as a viable career option to girls in schools steering girls towards university rather than trades
  • lack of encouragement for girls interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)
  • fewer role models for girls
  • traditional views of men’s work and women’s work and gender stereotypes
  • rigid workplace practices and cultures of prejudice that exclude women and treat them as ‘other’

While the number of female students enrolled in construction and trade courses at registered training organisations (RTOs) is rising, there is a severe discrepancy between the number of female students and the number of women then employed in for a sustained period.

Women are more likely to be employed in ancillary roles in trades industries. This contributes to the limitation of career progression for women and affects the overall poor level of retention.

Skills Shortages in Trades

The HIA Trades Availability Index, which records the availability of skilled trades in construction across all states and territories, improved marginally from -0.55 to -0.53 in the June 2021 quarter. The Index indicates there is a shortage of skilled trades, reflecting one of the most significant shortages in the past 20 years. 

The National Skills Needs List (NSNL) identifies trades that are determined as experiencing a national skills shortage through detailed labour market research and analysis. Currently, the trades included on the NSNL cover a vast array of industries, from construction and infrastructure to automotive and mechanical. Of the 65 trades listed on the NSNL, at least 57 are traditionally male-dominated roles.

The manual trades sector has, like many other areas, been impacted by the mass exodus of over 340,000 skilled visa and work visa holders from Australia. The Department of Home Affairs confirmed last month that the number of technicians and trades visa holders has dropped, at -14.8% from the previous year.

ABS data covering business conditions for June 2021 found that 27% of businesses reported having difficulty finding suitable staff to fill jobs, and almost one in five said they did not have enough staff based on their current operations. Manual trades came in high on the list, with difficulty finding skilled workers reported by 32% of the construction sector, 36% of other services including repair and maintenance and 35% of manufacturing.

With the right support from government, key networks and industry, female workers could be the answer to the skills shortage in manual trades, provided more is done to remove the barriers they face entering these industries. 

The Gender Pay Gap

This year, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) announced the gender pay gap had gone up by 0.8% compared to the previous six months and now sits at 14.2%. The disparity equates to a gap of $261.50 per week between women and men and a total of just over $13,000 in the last financial year. 

Why has the gender pay gap increased in the last six months? The ABS has pointed to a rise in wages in the male-dominated, short-skilled construction industry, which last year benefitted from the government’s financial stimulus during the first wave of the pandemic. 

This means that some of Australia’s most pandemic-impacted women and families will miss out on the recovery. Trades employers with predominantly male workforces are missing out on a valuable pool of talent, not to mention the avoidance of cost increases exclusively created by the skills shortage.

Solutions for Women in Trades

There has been some progress in encouraging women as tradespeople, with organisations such as TAFE and Tradeswomen Australia, larger employers and even the Victorian Government implementing policies and programs to help recruit, train and retain women. 

Last month, Tradeswomen Australia launched their Workplace Diversity Project which aims to support businesses in the automotive industry to create environments that embrace diversity and inclusion through their recruitment, employee support, and workplace practices. More than 160 workplaces, representing 3000 employees, have already been confirmed to participate in this industry-first program designed to improve small and medium automotive businesses through diversity and inclusion.

The Victorian Government is also aiming to achieve greater representation of women in construction, through their Building Gender Equality: Victoria’s Women in Construction Strategy 2019-2022. This is one of the most significant and comprehensive strategies the state government has undertaken in relation to gender diversity within a trades industry. 

Under the strategy, attracting women and girls to the construction industry will require:

  • schools giving more vocal and positive encouragement for girls about STEM subjects and trades
  • emphasis on unpacking the gender bias of careers counsellors and trades teachers in schools and Technical and Further Education (TAFE)
  • promotion of female role models to girls
  • funding of apprenticeships, training and education should be gender-sensitive. It should acknowledge the unique barriers women face gaining access to the construction industry, and identify practical solutions to overcome these barriers
  • a campaign to eliminate the attitudes that underpin the culture of gender inequality, involving all construction workers – including managers and employers

Minister for Industrial Relations, Tim Pallas said of the strategy “We need to make women aware that construction is an attractive and viable career option. Women must be proactively recruited and have access to strong career pathways. Workplaces must be inclusive and adaptive to ensure that women stay in the industry.”

Women are the Solution 

With more support in government and private sector policies and education programs, the manual trades sector can realise more women in trades roles - because 2% is not nearly enough women in the sector. 

Businesses can reap the benefits of becoming stronger, better able to respond to customer needs without a skills shortage and be vital in helping to close the gender pay gap. 

 

We’ve been working in the trades sector for over 25 years, matching employers and job seekers with unparalleled success. If you’re ready to reap the benefits of a more diverse workforce, get in touch today!

 

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