Taking to the tools for a living has traditionally been seen as a path for the men and its a perception so strong that in the last 40 years, little has changed in the industry and women account for around three percent of jobs says Destination Trades founder and CEO, Christina Rogstad.
And while it's not a particularly surprising statistic, as recent years have served up plenty of research about it, Rogstad says “nobody’s actually grabbing it by the throat and saying, 'how we are going to change it?'”. Now Destination Trades is doing just after launching six months ago to help women get employed in construction trades.
Destination Trades is currently spreading its message via billboards in Auckland, designed by Haigs Design in Pukekohe, calling on women to join the trade industry. But Rogstad says these billboards aren't going to change the ratio of men to women alone, and her team is also working behind the scenes to change perceptions in the construction industry.
Last year, TRA head of strategy Colleen Ryan spoke to StopPress about how to change people’s minds with the example of getting more Aucklanders onto bicycles.
She says you have to look at the social environment and make it feel normal, because nobody wants to feel like they’re the only ones doing it. Once people do take up riding a bike, they found their own reward in that they enjoyed having the time to listen to podcasts, music or just clear their head.
Rogstad says a similar thing about women who move into the construction trades as they are good at it and prefer the outdoor experiences they don’t get in the likes of retail jobs.
But as well as normalising the career path, Ryan adds it’s about being progressive and making people aware that they’re not taking a backwards step—a method that can be seen in Destination Trades' billboards that read 'Women – Earn More be a Tradie'.
Rogstad says women will make “a whole lot more” as a qualified electrician than they would as a retail assistant, because jobs that have become feminised typically have lower wages.
According to Careers NZ, which shows electricians earn $42-70,000 a year, plumbers earn $52-79,000 and carpenters earn $38-79,000. This is compared to retail assistant’s $32-45,000 a year, retail manager’s $46,000 and florist’s $35-52,000.
And not only is the pay greater, there’s a need for a bigger talent pool as construction activity is set to increase 10 percent every year to 2021. Rogstad says there’s a deficit of about 50,000 trades jobs coming up, and bringing in people from overseas to fill the spots won’t solve the problem of under-utilisation and unemployment in New Zealand.
Former Metro editor Simon Wilson expressed a similar view The Spinoff when he spoke about issues “the lefts” need to focus on in the upcoming election.
“All those people who can’t find work – young, middle-aged, whoever – train them up for the building trades. From Christchurch to Kaikoura to Auckland, these are the workers we desperately need. Especially, make construction a great occupation for women: the payoff for them and for our culture as a whole will be immense.”
According to Statistics New Zealand, in the March 2016 quarter, male unemployment rate was 5.4 percent to the 6.5 percent among women.
Helping to change those numbers is Destination Trades' sales pitch about construction trade, which Rogstad says needs to cover three different areas.
The first is making women, who are coming out of school and are already in the workforce, aware that they should broaden their scope and consider construction trades. She says they look at jobs in hospitality and retail while leaving the building, plumbing or being an electrician jobs for their male peers, when in reality, they are mentally and physically capable.
“One of the things women immediately ask us is, ‘am I going to be strong enough, can I manage heavy loads?’” Rogstad says. “The reality is, with the new health and safety regulations, you’re not allowed to pick up large heavy loads. I think 40kgs is about the limit.”
Further helping women to see construction trade jobs as a potential is education of their parents, who have influence over their daughter’s career paths. Destination Trades want to make sure parents understand the value in the jobs as much as the women themselves so conversations can be had about potential jobs.
Last year BCITO, with Brand Spanking, ran a campaign to promote the building trade which saw a massive shed built in Auckland’s Sylvia Park car park. As well as targeting those leaving school and those who started university and found it wasn’t for them, Brand Spanking’s director and creative strategist Mark Pickering told StopPress, another key audience was the parents, who could watch and think “that’s something my kid could be doing”.
One country that's seen the education around construction trades break down the perceptions surrounding it is Germany, which realised that while not everyone benefits from college, everyone can be successful and contribute to society.
It developed a vocational education programme, which saw students spend one to two days in the classroom to learn occupational theory as well as general subjects, while also completing a working apprenticeship in their chosen field.
When Bloomberg wrote about the programme in 2013, some 51 percent of German students were choosing it, and as a result the country now has one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the world.
But it’s not just about changing the perceptions of those outside of the trades. Rogstad says employers need to be made more aware that women make really good employees and they should be actively recruiting.
“It’s more than just putting up a couple of posters around the place with a picture of a girl in a hard hat," she says, adding that those who employ women will be rewarded with a better team.
"There’s been a lot of research done, that showed when women in the workforce are more productive and safer people, but for some reason, employers are still only looking at the same talent pool.
"As we get more and more women into it, it will start to level out but we really need these women to come in and prove they are twice as productive and twice as safe."