Wanted: More Female Tradies in Australia

You open the door, and there is your plumber. You greet respectfully and lead the way to the kitchen, where your drainage is in need of dire attention. Two hours later, plumber is done; your sink is draining well again. You thank her profusely.

‘Her’ is not a typo. It really is a she.

You’d be forgiven to think that though. Too often we think of trades as male-dominated professions, but now we could not be more mistaken. Change is coming, as much in the way tradespeople handle paperwork as they hire individuals. More and more women today are wanting in as plumbers, contractors—tradespersons who can compete with the best of brawns out there.

Hard labour

Between 2008 and 2012, number of women in vocational training has risen by 80 percent. There were 251,900 women who participated in government-subsidised vocational training in 2012, compared with 139,800 in 2008.

If you have any doubt about women thriving on hard labour—and by labour we don’t mean childbirth—then you only need to look at tradies in the Australian Capital Territory. There a team composed largely of female tradies was able to construct two public housing homes for people with disabilities.

Yet according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, women only make up some 9.6 percent of number of individuals employed as tradies and technicians from August through September 2014. In general women constitute no more than 25 percent of trades like electricians and motor mechanics.

Most damning of all, Institute of Automotive Mechanical Engineers surveyed 500 workshops for their attitudes toward training young, able women. Many workshops, it turned out, avoided training females on the pretext that they lack toilets for two sexes, that they can’t handle the cost of maternity leaves, and that male staff are wont to use crude language at work.

“I don’t think the lady will fall down and suck her thumb if they let fly with a few expletives,” said the institute’s CEO Peter Blanshard.

He pointed out that training women would ultimately save the country from a skills crunch. Many Australian firms still have to pluck male workers abroad and sponsor their temporary working visas.

If only they could look in their own backyard, so to speak: Women are handier than men at multitasking. This is no myth. Plus, fact that women are increasingly having a say on how their house should be designed, how it should be renovated, bespeaks a need for more empathetic partners in the process.

Breaking the glass ceiling

In light of this glaring need, government has been very proactive in pushing for gender parity in the trades. Beginning in 2010, Victoria government has siphoned some $300,000 into programmes designed to even the playing field for lady tradies. In the suburb of Northcote alone, a project puts 40 female students from years 10-12 in trade apprenticeships, not any of which entail hairdressing and trades perceived to be feminine.

In New South Wales, Minister for Women Pru Goward pledged $200,000 in assistance to women who hope to fill up blue-collar vacancies usually reserved for males.

“We want the best ideas from local government, community organisations and industry bodies to work with the NSW government to increase women in non-traditional occupations,” Goward said.

Even private organisations and their male leaders are gunning for women empowerment. For one, Master Builders Association is offering apprenticeships in construction to ladies.

What can be gleaned from all these is that it is no longer enough that women have won universal suffrage and broken so many glass ceilings in executive careers. True, women take time to bring their babies to term, but pregnancy should not be treated as a handicap. Crux of the problem lies not in the women, but in the men who still dominate hiring decisions. Are they ready to accept women into their fold? Time is ticking, for sure, and no company can afford to be a boys’ club anymore.

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