It is no secret that there is currently a huge skills shortage in the UK, and the construction industry is one of the most seriously affected sectors. The most recent Employer Skills Survey published by the UK government in 2017 stated that the building trade had the greatest rate of vacancies based on skills shortages (36%), meaning that positions left open for six months or more were due to a lack of adequately trained applicants.

From electricians and plumbers to builders and carpenters, trade industries are struggling to fill vacancies, and this skills gap is having a detrimental impact on the British economy.

With the country crying out for more people to learn valuable skills, could this be a good career opportunity for women?

Jobs for the boys?

Trade professions have traditionally been male dominated and, sadly, gender stereotyping has always been particularly strong in these areas.

According to figures from Women and Manual Trades, women make up only 1% of the skilled trades workforce, while official ONS figures show that the proportion of women working in construction increased from 11.7% in 1999 to 13.4% in 2014.

While there is clearly still a very long way to go to ensure gender equality in terms of the numbers of workers, attitudes and views are now, thankfully, slowly changing.

Arguably, economic necessity is a greater driver for change than sudden enlightenment in a change of outdated attitudes towards female employment.

Interestingly, a 2018 survey carried out by the UK Federation of Master Builders discovered that 53% of Londoners expressed no preference over the gender of the tradesperson employed, while nearly two-thirds felt that a female trader might be more likely to treat the property with respect, and a third actively preferred to employ a tradeswoman.

The fact is that doors are now opening to encourage women into careers across the whole front of the manual trades that were previously considered to be male domains.

What’s more, with literally thousands of job opportunities in the trades, there’s never been a better time for women to take up the tools.

Benefits of a trade career

Skilled labour in the construction industries makes for desirable career paths, as tradesmen have been enjoying for many years.

For women who are looking for rewarding, hands-on work, there is now every reason to consider training up for a trade career, acquiring lifelong skills that will always be in demand.

There are many advantages to pursuing a career in trade industries, and the benefits can be substantial:

1.) Good rates of pay. One of the greatest motivators of taking up a trade is the earnings potential available. Experienced carpenters, electricians, plumbers and plasterers can earn annual salaries of £30K and beyond, and the potential is there to earn substantially more. An established self-employed UK electrician, for instance, is likely to earn £35-40K per annum, and this figure could be higher in London and the southeast.

2.) Flexibility and independence. Job opportunities exist as full-time employees or as ‘freelance’ workers. Once qualified and having built up sufficient experience, tradespeople often choose to become self-employed. That way, there’s greater control over work schedules and hours, greater flexibility in choosing jobs as well as in deciding how much to charge each client.

Most women who work in trade careers are their own bosses, any many employ others too. There’s a huge opportunity to make your mark on your chosen industry and build your own company, as these three female plumbing entrepreneurs are demonstrating with huge aplomb. Hattie Hasan even received an MBE last year for her work to encourage more women into trades, having founded Stopcocks Women Plumbers, a network of female plumbers in the UK.

3.) Training opportunities. In a recent report, 43% of female employees named the wealth of available apprenticeship opportunities as the biggest incentive behind their decision to enter a trade career. Certainly, there’s no need for a university degree to learn a trade skill, nor any reason to saddle yourself with tens of thousands of pounds in student debt.

Apprenticeships and training courses are easily accessible, enabling effective on-the-job learning and getting qualified quickly.

In fact, training for a trade skill is now much easier than it used to be. As an alternative to years of studying at college with additional years working as an apprentice, many training companies are now offering intensive training courses to teach the practical skills necessary.

This also opens up the field beyond school leavers to include recruits from diverse backgrounds. Women who have recently been made redundant and are looking to retrain, those embarking on a second career, stay-at-home mothers/wives now considering a first career or returning to work after a career break.

There are training opportunities and courses to suit all circumstances offering flexible learning at your own pace while honouring other family or work commitments.

Addressing the gender imbalance

Many women may not yet be aware of the potential benefits open to them of a career in the trade industry, so more must be done to promote the wealth of opportunities available.

Government, schools and colleges, businesses and trade associations all need to play their part to ensure effective communication targeted at women at all stages of career development.

To recruit significant numbers of women, these types of career choices must be presented as being accessible regardless of gender, and highlight equal opportunities for male and female applicants.