Encouraging more women to become tradies
Skilled tradespeople are in high demand and short supply, so why aren’t more women considering trades careers?
In key industries with major skills shortages, like construction, manufacturing and automotive, women make up just two percent of qualified tradespeople (PDF 1.53MB). Increasing women’s participation in male-dominated trades won’t just expand the recruitment pool, it will also create more inclusive and diverse workplaces, broaden women’s career opportunities and boost the State’s economy.
What we did
To address underrepresentation, Training Services NSW launched 'Trade Pathways for Women.' As part of this initiative, the NSW Behavioural Insights Unit partnered with Training Services NSW to understand what stops girls and women from taking up apprenticeships in male-dominated trades and suggest solutions based on behavioural science.
We reviewed 22 research studies on the recruitment of women and girls in male-dominated apprenticeships and traineeships. We drew on a further 40 studies and applied behavioural insights to identify barriers and enablers to make recommendations for behavioural change. The results of our initial research below are drawn from our new report published by Training Services NSW, 'Women in Trades Promising Practice Review (PDF 2.47MB).'
What we found
Influential people discourage women from vocational education and training (VET)
Parents, teachers and careers advisors say they encourage students to aim for university. They regard VET courses like hairdressing and plumbing as lower status qualifications – ‘Plan B’ if you cannot get into uni. The male-dominated trades are also stigmatised as involving dirty and physically demanding work.
These barriers of status and stigma feed the stereotype that trades are for non-academic boys and are not suitable for girls.
Challenge the inaccurate beliefs and outdated social norms by promoting successful tradeswomen as role models. Tradeswomen can earn as much or more than university graduates, enjoy problem-solving and working with their hands and are likely to end up running their own business.
Emphasise the personal and prosocial benefits of working in a trade. Tradeswomen contribute positively to their communities, take pride in their work and their skills are in demand.
Use positive framing to shift the context from getting dirty and heavy lifting to creating and fixing things. Explain how advances in technology as well as health and safety regulations mean less reliance on physical strength.
Employers don’t do enough to eliminate bias
Women entering male-dominated workplaces can face sexism, harassment and discrimination. If they are the first and only female tradie, they may have to deal with inadequate facilities and lack of social support. Women apprentices may also be assigned lower skilled roles and get fewer career opportunities.
Provide employers with information about how to proactively eliminate bias at work.
Match employers with more experienced peers to get tips on creating female-friendly workplaces.
Provide timely advice to girls about their workplace rights, how to navigate a male-dominated environment and where to find support and resources.
Have influential employers (trusted messengers) send personalised invitations to other businesses to join a network of support for women apprentices.
Employers’ recruitment strategies and policies disadvantage women
Smaller businesses often don’t have HR departments and find formal recruitment a hassle. Women from non-tradie families find it hard to access the informal networks which many employers rely on to source apprentices. Early starts, rigid hours and inflexible working conditions can make jobs unappealing for women with family responsibilities.
Reduce the friction costs of formal recruitment by giving employers templates for advertising which use inclusive language and images and promote diversity and flexible working policies.
Use personalised email and phone calls to encourage women to keep applying for apprenticeships.
Hire a group of women as a cohort to create a network of support.
Parents', teachers’ and career advisors’ lack of awareness of VET opportunities reduces take-up
Girls say careers advisors don’t talk to them about VET. Consequently, they don’t know what VET courses exist and what’s required to pursue a trade. Careers advisors lack training on supporting young women into trades and don’t understand the diversity of careers it offers.
Create timely prompts, checklists and conversations guides for parents, teachers and careers advisors to foster discussions with girls about trades.
Create a decision tree with case studies of different career and life pathways for girls.
Simplify apprenticeship applications. Reduce unnecessary steps and administrative burdens.
Send women weekly tips about how to improve their CVs and job applications
Read more about this report on the Training Services website.
As part of the Women in Trades project, the Behavioural Insights Unit has collected and analysed data from interviews and focus groups with employers, apprentices and other stakeholders across NSW. We’re also supporting Training Services NSW with communication campaign trials, a community of practice among employers and testing ways to lift women’s participation in non-traditional trades.