“Lady tradies’’ are cashing in on careers in construction, as building companies hire extra apprentices during the pandemic.
With crippling skills shortages in 62 trade areas, Tradeswomen Australia is urging girls to fill the gap by signing up for trade training when they leave school.
In the lucrative building trades, just one in 40 apprentices is female.
“It’s such a financially rewarding career – go for it, girls,’’ Tradeswomen Australia managing director Fiona McDonald said yesterday.
“Trades are where the money is, and especially if you get on a commercial site – a big development, a high-rise building, tunnels and road upgrades – you can earn more than a doctor.
“It’s so entrepreneurial – once you’ve finished your apprenticeship you can start your own business the next day.
“There’s a lot of work available and not enough people to do the jobs.’’
Ms McDonald, a motor mechanic, was studying interior design at university and working in a cafe when a couple of mechanics collecting their morning coffee asked if she had any “male friends’’ seeking an apprenticeship.
“I asked, ‘Would you hire a woman?’ and they said, ‘Send her down’, so I rocked up with my resume the next day and never left,’’ she recalls.
Ms McDonald said a trade could give school leavers a qualification, without being saddled with hefty HECS-HELP debts after university.
New data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) reveals a surprise 7.7 per cent increase in the number of workers starting an apprenticeship in the construction trades during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employers hired 3070 new construction apprentices between April and June this year, compared to 2850 in the same period last year.
But blokes dominate the building trades – only 220 women are apprentice plumbers, compared to 18,210 men.
Among apprentice electricians, 30,540 are men and 1325 are women.
Just 385 women are working as apprentice carpenters, compared to 26,715 men.
Twenty women have bricklaying apprenticeships, alongside 1940 men.
Hairdressing is the most popular trade for women, with 6375 female apprentices and 995 male apprentices.
In the automotive trades, women account for only 905 of the nation’s 22,300 apprentice motor mechanics – and none of the nation’s 15 apprentice panel beaters.
Tradies often earn six-figure incomes, with ServiceSeeking’s “tradie rich list’’ revealing that plumbers average $110,000 a year, with concreters earning $107,500, carpenters $102,424 and electricians $85,972 during 2020.
Phoebe Lawrie, 21, will start an electrical apprenticeship at Stowe Electrical in Sydney next month, after ditching a university degree in economics and philosophy.
“I love knowing how the world works, but in the business school at university there were 800 people in some of the big lectures,’’ she said.
“The university learning style didn’t really work for me because it was hands-off, but the apprenticeship is very practical.’’
Ms Lawrie said she might return to university to study engineering once she finishes her electrical apprenticeship.
She got her foot in the tradesman’s entrance by attending an intensive eight-week construction “bootcamp’’ through apprentice hire and training group Productivity Force and training partner Productivity Bootcamp.
Productivity Force executive director Kieran Duffy said women now make up 7 per cent of graduates, who have gone to work in the building and landscaping sectors.
Another graduate, Samm McBride, 27, of Warrimoo in NSW, switched from working in childcare to an apprenticeship in metal fabrication with NonDrill and KBSS.
“While I enjoyed being a childcare worker, the money was less than desired, and I was interested in learning a trade,” she said.
Plumber Rachael Keiley had planned to study science at university before her father convinced her to start a trade.
Seventeen years later, she has her own business based in Mermaid Waters and has won a Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) Women in Plumbing and Gas Award.
“An apprenticeship will give you a foot in the door for a career in construction, site management, assessing and estimating,’’ she said.
“You’re earning and learning, so you’re not studying and having to try to make ends meet – you’re literally getting paid to learn.’’
Ms Keiley said she was “results-driven’’ and liked that “you can literally see what you’ve done at the end of the day’’.
“There’s a huge variety of work, you get to meet different people and you’re not stuck behind a desk,’’ she said.
Amber Schelton’s childhood aspiration was to become a tradie.
The 28-year-old graduated from school with strong grades and completed a marketing and geography degree at Adelaide University.
But when Ms Schelton realised job opportunities were limited, she decided to pursue her dream.
It came to fruition when she landed an apprenticeship with construction and maintenance plumbers Cushman and Wakefield.
Ms Schelton is three months out from completing her four-year apprenticeship organised through Trainee and Apprentice Placement Service (TAPS).
“Working outside is the great appeal of it,” Ms Schelton, of Dry Creek, said.
“The physical work – you feel healthier at the end of the day and you can stand back and see a product you’re proud of.”
Ms Schelton described the training opportunities as “amazing”.
She said she had received feedback from builders, who were impressed with the training she had received.
“Give it a go – just go in and try it out,” Ms Schelton said.
“It might not be for everyone but the workmates you’re with and the jokes on site, the laughter, feeling tired at the end of the day and being proud of the job you’ve done is satisfying.”
Sparky Teneille Koster has started her own business, Tradette Electrical Contracting, in Geelong, Victoria.
“Not one day is the same, and there’s always a new problem to solve,’’ she said.
“As a business owner I like the flexibility and interaction with clients.’’
Ms Koster urged high school girls to do work experience with a tradie, and “try something that’s a bit outside the box’’.
“As much as I would complain about the apprentice wage, essentially I got paid to learn,’’ she said.
“And I don’t have a HECS debt, and later in life that comes as a really big bonus.’’