Women in trades - a good fit

Women in trades - a good fit

A shortage of trade workers and changing attitudes is encouraging women to take up traditionally male roles.

In the latest National Construction Pipeline Report, the New Zealand Government predicts that construction activity will increase ten per cent every year to 2019.

Minister for Women Louise Upston says there is already a shortage of trade workers due to economic growth and the Christchurch rebuild, therefore "it makes good business sense" to attract women to trade industries and make better use of their labour to "help build a prosperous and productive New Zealand".

The report also states that while half the working age population is female, just one per cent of them are plumbers, electricians, carpenters and joiners. According to Statistics New Zealand, less than 12 per cent of the entire construction industry is female.

However, this trend is changing in Christchurch with a skills shortage and greater acceptance of women in trades. This is certainly evident in the number of women undertaking CPIT trades programmes in the last four years, with women making up about one third of programmes such as painting and decorating.

Overall, female enrolments have nearly doubled from five per cent in 2011 to 11 per cent this year; that's a total of 2301 males and 257 females in training for trades.
One of them is plumbing apprentice Jess Cox. She originally intended to be a nurse like her mother, but encouragement from male colleagues helped the 20 year-old enter a traditionally male role.

Cox's career option presented itself when she accompanied her partner Henry Miskelly, now in his third year as a CPIT plumbing apprentice, to work last winter.

"I enjoyed it so much that he and his boss suggested I do a pre trade at CPIT."

Cox started with the plumbing pre trade to get the core skills and knowledge she needed, before undertaking the National Certificate in Plumbing.

She has been working and doing an apprenticeship with Clyne & Bennie Plumbing since May this year.Women in trade advocates such as the Ministry for Women cite research that show the benefits they can bring to businesses. These include effective communication skills, stronger connections with customers, improved business performance and greater diversity of leadership.

Cox's advice to other women wanting to do a trade is to get stuck in. "You've got to show people you really mean business, and you've got to prove yourself, like in any job."

Eventually, Cox would like to get into management, but in the meantime she wants to "stay on the tools until I know what I'm talking about."