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All hail the tradeswoman! Pandemic increases female interest in traditionally male jobs

There are twice as many female electricians, plumbers, painters and decorators and construction workers than there were 10 years ago and the pandemic has piqued that interest.

Research by field service management software Powered Now has shown that 21% of women in the UK during the last 12 months have considered a career in the trades. Of those, the following careers were the most popular:

  1. Handywomen 
  2. Bathroom and Kitchen fitting
  3. Roofing
  4. Painting and decorating
  5. Extension providers

2018 survey by the Federation of Master Builders found more than a third of Londoners would prefer a female tradesperson. But at the same time, a third fewer would encourage their daughters to pursue a career in construction than their sons.

Garage Express’ Jane Russell is hopeful that more women will be encouraged to enter the motor industry as technology changes the nature of the work involved. She told Which? Trusted Traders: ‘The reputation of the motor industry is that it’s a dirty trade – spanners and oil.’ But as she points out, “a lot of modern cars are more about computers than spanners, so technicians need to understand the electrical and computing side of vehicles. You have to be smart to work on these vehicles – brute force doesn’t cut it anymore.”

Garage Express’ Jane Russell

Indeed, female-led businesses in the trades have provided motivation for women seeking new ventures. Businesses such as 5 Star Pest Control, founded by Lin French, have demonstrated that it is possible to break the mould of what a CEO in the trades should look like.

Lin French, CEO of Five Star Pest Control

There is good reason for women’s interest in these kinds of jobs. Apparently, 15% of women currently within the trades have seen their client demand reach a record high during the pandemic.

Home improvements have gone through a period of rapid growth, according to market research provider Kantar. A total of £4.94 billion was spent on home improvements last year, £552 million more than the previous 12 months and that increase has presented opportunities for women to pursue careers in the trades.

Women into Construction is an independent not-for-profit organisation that promotes gender equality in construction.

This organisation offers bespoke support to women wishing to work in the construction industry, and assists contractors to recruit highly motivated, trained women, helping to reduce skills gaps and create a more gender-equal work force.

Women into Construction

Women looking for work during the coronavirus pandemic have benefited from a training programme which has helped them secure new careers in the construction industry.

Fifteen women were trained by Capital City College Training (CCCT) and undertook work placements as part of the programme run by Women into Construction, in partnership with Henry Construction and The Guinness Partnership.

According to Women into Construction, just 13 per cent of workers in the construction industry are women and less than one per cent of those are working in the trades – such as bricklaying, electrical work, carpentry, plumbing, surveying, roofing and plastering.

The five-week programme provides participants with help to gain jobs in the industry, both on site and in the office. It includes 10 days’ training followed by a two-week industry placement with advice and support to get help participants get into work.

Jennifer Mensah, 25, found it hard to find work despite having completed a master’s degree in construction management this year. Since joining the programme she has been offered a job as an architectural designer with Lendlease.

She told “I was applying for jobs, but it was very frustrating and I was getting into debt. My mum had had a stroke and I was having to look after my brother. It was a very worrying time for me.

“The programme helped me to connect with different companies and gain more experience and the confidence to get the job I have been working all my life for. Without this help it would have been 100 times harder for me and might never have happened.”

Ben Dyer, CEO of Powered Now, says: “In a turn of events, the pandemic has highlighted that the trades is a haven for employment, and perhaps has been an unexpected catalyst to help move the industry closer to gender parity. It isn’t often that you associate International Women’s Day with construction, but hopefully people will start to recognise the careers that are available to women.

“Of course, as more women pursue careers in the trades, it will help to dismantle the trope that manual labour is just for men. We have found that existing businesses in the trades run by women can often be the most innovative, with female-only trade SMEs providing a service for those who are uneasy about who they allow into their homes.” 

Diane Cooke
Diane Cooke is a three times award-winning journalist who has worked for UK national/regional newspapers, magazines and websites.

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