Women in Trade: Why education is important

With state and federal investment in infrastructure at an all-time high and businesses calling out for trade workers why in 2020 is the uptake on women undertaking apprenticeships still sitting at below 3% across skilled trade roles?

Across Australia we see young women being provided with limited exposure to the education and skill development required to consider trade as a career option. There is evidence-based research that indicates a significant number of teachers (both primary and secondary) carry subconscious gender bias that adversely affects pupil’s career decisions and learning pathways, favouring boys towards certain (male-dominated) trades and women towards business and humanities. This view is reinforced by many parents of young women.

“I believe our education system suffers from gender stereotyping. In schools, VCAL is embraced as a valid pathway for boys with the aim of gaining an apprenticeship. This pathway is not embraced for or by girls” commented Virginia a mother of the young women.

Another constraint on teachers is the limited time capacity set aside for personal development within the career advising space. Research suggests teachers are often left to interpret their own career experiences when providing career advice to students. Many teachers have not had exposure to careers in the “blue-collar” sector and with limited resources available to support students with this interest seeking information is often difficult or impossible.

Research recently conducted by Tradeswomen Australia, a series of found that students with a parent or close family member working in trade not only have a greater understanding of career options but also increased confidence in using tools. “Zoe had my tape measure today and she was tapping it on the wall while I was using a stud finder while helping me doing renovations at home.” says Jamie a carpenter and father of 3-year-old Zoe. Those young women and girls that do not have direct contact with someone working in trades do not get this exposure.

In a country with skills shortages across all major trades, it may seem common sense to engage and educate the community about these career options, but the benefits of engaging women are far greater than just reducing skills shortages. In 2012 the Grattan Institute found that if there was an extra 6% of women in the workforce, we could add up to $25 billion, or approximately 1%, to Australia’s Gross Domestic Product.  

With mounting pressures on parents and schools we believe it is important to support the parents and teachers of students, by providing the education system with relevant trade career resources. It is also important that while doing this Tradeswomen Australia works towards increasing the understanding and awareness of bias and the impacts it has on our education system in order to increase and inspire a future trade workforce in Australia.

In order to engage with young women we need to take a new approach through engaging new mediums. For this to be successful we must engage with all their influencers, support their knowledge building and unpack unconscious bias in the education system.” – Fiona McDonald