For as long as the demand for skilled tradies has existed, there have been women—smart, strong, and skilled—ready to do business. These women were by no means the typical tradie, and even today females make up less than 2% of Australia’s tradie population. The skilled trades are widely considered to be men’s work, and this perception is so deeply rooted in our society that many women fail to even acknowledge this career path as an option. A change is happening though, and the recent pandemic seems to be perpetuating this change.
The continued rarity of females in the trade industries has little to do with a lack of interest, willingness, or importantly, ability. In fact, ‘most women’ excelled at and enjoyed stepping into these ‘trade’ roles during the World Wars. These crises played a vital role in de-gendering career roles, but after the crises ended, while more women began to claim their space as doctors, lawyers, scholars, and soldiers, they were quickly displaced from the trades.
COVID-19 changed the world. In addition to the health crisis, lockdowns and border closures caused considerable damage to many industries and threatened the livelihoods of a colossal amount of people. This is especially true of women, who were twice as likely to have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. This was largely because women are more likely to work in the industries that were hit hardest by restrictions and lockdowns, such as education, tourism, hospitality and the arts. Now as we learn to live with the pandemic most of those jobs have returned, but this experience has inspired many women to seek more stable careers.
Even without the pandemic, as the world changes, technology advances and consumer trends fluctuate, many businesses rise and fall—but the demand for electricians, mechanics, plumbers, and other skilled tradies is not just unwavering, it’s rising. These jobs are essential to maintaining the basic comforts we have become accustomed to and, as a society, our willingness to pay for our continued access to these comforts is unlikely to change. Not only do the trades offer job security, they also provide a more than satisfactory salary.
During lockdowns, many people discovered hidden passions — baking sourdough, selling crafts on Etsy, learning how to fix up a car. This period of self-discovery led many people into re-evaluating their career choices and afforded them the opportunity to consider work they could feel passionate about. For many women, this meant saying goodbye to casual or insecure hospitality work or being stuck in a sterile office all day, and pursuing a job where they can work in the sunshine or get their hands dirty.
COVID has changed the way many people live their life, in some ways for the better. One positive thing that came out of it was the way workplaces adapted to survive the pandemic, exposing the workforce to a more flexible working style. However, now that the peak of the pandemic is over, not all workers are as willing to go back to the way things used to be as their workplaces would prefer. Aside from more security and better pay, for some women, the trades offer more balance between their professional and personal goals. Wherever one goes in the world, there will always be demand for a skilled tradesperson. This offers tradeswomen the opportunity to satisfy the wanderlust that COVID’s border closures suppressed for so long.
The trades also offer more flexibility and control over when work gets done. Starting a job in the early hours of the day allows tradies to dedicate their afternoons to hobbies or quality time with loved ones, and those who choose to manage their own trade businesses also have the power to create their own schedules. This level of control has proven extremely attractive to women entering trade work.
The skilled trades can offer women everything they may want out of a career, but while it may no longer be stereotypically men’s work, these industries can still feel like a man’s world. Women entering the field may sometimes face misogynistic comments, toxic culture, or limited support. However, the world is changing every day, and global pandemic or not, these industries are in desperate need of more tradeswomen. It’s lucky for them then, that women have proven themselves so very spectacular at stepping up.
And this time—there will be no stepping down.