Current Needs and Future Trends Means Opportunity for Women in the Skilled Trades
By Julie Anderson
The “War For Talent” is here, it is real, and it has reached epidemic proportions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force is expected to increase by nearly 9 million, from 2020 to 2030 while the labor force participation rate is projected to actually decline by 1.3% over the next decade. This decline is due to the aging and retirement of the baby-boom generation, the declining trend of men’s participation in the workforce, but only a slight decline in women’s participation, creating new opportunities for women of all ages.
There are some comparisons here to when mass vacancies in manufacturing during World War II created a need for women to enter the workforce. The difference is that in 1940, only 28% of women were working as compared to 2019, when nearly 60% of all women participated in the labor workforce. Today, it is about empowerment. A woman can be in any career she chooses, and she has the power to pursue it, because more employers are embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and also because the workforce is wide open with opportunities.
Given these trends, why has this not carried over to the trades yet? Estimates show there will be more than 200,000 new jobs in the trades by 2029. With females making up less than 10% of the trades’ current workforce, it is an opportune time for women to consider a career in the trades. Nearly 9 out of 10 tradespeople believe making the trades more welcoming to women would have a modest or major impact on getting more people involved in the trades, and over half (54%) agree that more women would join the trades if we built a clearer career path for them, according to a recent report by Angi. Additionally, several traditional trade occupations, according to the 2018 census data, reported that women earn more than men, reversing the gender pay gap that has persisted across industries for so long. In addition, 83% of tradespeople are either somewhat or extremely satisfied in their choice of work.
These reasons and more were confirmed when I asked several female technicians at our Wrench Group partner locations why they chose a career in the trades.
“I’m proud to work in the trades because I’m a hero to others when in need. There is nothing more satisfying than helping someone,” said Alyana Chavez, Plumber with CoolToday in Sarasota, Fla. “Plumbers are important to the health of the nation.”
“I enjoy having the opportunity to take care of each and every client I visit,” said Anna Mutz, HVAC Installer with Abacus Heating and Plumbing in Houston, Texas. “I really like what I do, so every day it is a memory for me, plus I get the satisfaction of doing a great job.”
“There are a lot of opportunities out there and you’ll be needed and you’ll get trained to your highest potential,” Raylynn Yellowhorse, Plumber with Parker and Sons in Phoenix, Ariz., said. “Also, I’m proud when the customer says ‘I’m so glad to see a female doing what used to be thought of as a man’s job in this field!’”
These women went on to say that learning about the trades early in life helped them make their career decisions. We need to start as early as high school educating young women that the skilled trades are a viable option for a long, stable, well-paying career.
Recently, I met 15-year-old Miranda Crist through her father, Jim Crist, who has been working in the trades for almost 20 years. Miranda has been riding along with her Dad in the HVAC business since she was 10 years old, as she put it, “to first hold the flashlight until he trusted me with the tools. It was then that I knew I wanted to do something with my life that was hands-on.”
Miranda is fortunate that her high school offers a technology program with options to experience several different trade careers. Miranda has successfully completed all six trades clusters that her school offers, and has focused her interest on welding and HVAC. When I asked Miranda why she wanted to pursue this as her career interest, she didn’t hesitate.
“I have so much energy that I couldn’t imagine a desk job, so that’s why I love working with my hands,” she said. “And at the end of the day my dirty hands are proof I got the job done!”
Miranda also wants other young women to know that training for the skilled trades will help them to succeed beyond the work. “Be confident in yourself, don’t back down, do not give up, and you will gain the respect you deserve from everyone,” she added.
There are many ways that women can learn about starting a career in the trades through technical school scholarship programs, trade organizations specific to women, and for young women, explore high school technical and vocational programs or check out Girls Garage (https://girlsgarage.org/).
Much like the spirit embodied by Rosie The Riveter in the 1940s, we should encourage women in the workforce today to consider a career change to the trades that will not only give them earning power and job stability and flexibility, but ensure that the next generation has the training, tools and support for a lifetime of opportunity in front of them as well.
About the author: Julie Anderson is Director of Recruitment and Retention at Marietta-based Wrench Group, a national leader in home services operating 23 brands across 17 markets nationwide. She has more than 25 years of experience in corporate recruiting and training.