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Skill shortages open doors for women in trades

Skill shortages open doors for women in trades

Skills shortages are prompting employers to buck the trend and employ female apprentices, according to a major new report on Modern Apprenticeships released today (Monday 11 September) by the Human Rights Commission.

Pragmatism is driving the change, says EEO Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor. “Faced with a skills shortage, some employers are thinking outside the box and bringing young women into trades training, which is great.”

Latest figures show that one in twelve Modern Apprentices are women, and a growing number of them are training to become builders, joiners, carpenters, electricians and motor mechanics. “However there is still a long way to go, with female apprentices increasing from 6.6 percent in 2003 to just 8.5 percent today,” Dr McGregor says.

A number of female Modern Apprentices from throughout New Zealand are profiled in the Human Rights Commission report, Give Girls a Go! Female Modern Apprentices in New Zealand, launched in Parliament today by the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Lianne Dalziel. Their stories and reports from their employers aim to raise awareness among young women, educators, careers advisors, industry training groups and employers about the benefits of trades training.

The positive reaction from some employers of female Modern Apprentices challenges stereotypes, Dr McGregor says. “In the past bosses appeared to be stuck in the groove of ‘boys only’. Now many are open to the best person for the job whether they are female, male, Māori, Pacific or from a minority group.”

For example, Christchurch joiner Stuart Cowan of JB Joinery says his female apprentice “hired herself” from the start through her attitude. “We had trouble getting boys with the right attitude in the past few years. To be honest, what did we have to lose?” Cowan says.

Hamilton builder Mike Pryor of Estate Builders says he is happy with his apprentice. “She can swing a hammer, mate. I don’t care if she’s black, white, green or orange, female or male, it doesn’t bother me.” If a female apprentice applies, give them a shot, Pryor says. “It doesn’t matter whether they’re a boy or a girl. It’s about the way you work with me, and if you listen and do it, then I’m happy.”

Richard Gibb of HRS Construction has one word for Christchurch building firms looking to employ a female apprentice: “Don’t!” he says. “Then we can pick them up.” He says he has seen some female building apprentices with outstanding trade skills.

The report details the business and human rights cases for attracting more young women into the trades, which are suffering from skills shortages. There is also information about pay rates for apprentices and qualified trades-people.

The Action Plan for New Zealand Women (2004) urges greater female participation in Modern Apprenticeships in industries where women are not well represented, in line with New Zealand’s international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

In New Zealand, 20 to 40 percent of the gender pay gap has been attributed to occupational segregation, with women clustered in a relatively narrow range of traditionally female-intensive, lower-paying occupations. The report states that increased opportunities for women and greater uptake of work-based trades training would help reduce the high level of occupational segregation.

Dr McGregor supports young women choosing to take up Modern Apprenticeships in trades that have traditionally been dominated by men. Women earn 82% on average of what men do, according to the NZ Income Survey for the June 2005 quarter. “Further work on occupational de-segregation should be integral to narrowing the pay gap between men and women. Occupational segregation, which is evident in a number of industries and occupations including the popular Modern Apprenticeship Scheme, is part of the picture.”

Female Modern Apprentices – What they say

Female Modern Apprentices list “hands-on” job satisfaction, the ability to earn while they learn, lack of student debt and job portability as factors in their career choice.

Standing back to look at a finished building and knowing she helped build it is a powerful feeling, says 19-year-old apprentice builder Annette Maitland, of Christchurch. She would definitely encourage other women to try a building apprenticeship. “It’s a great trade to get under your belt. You can do anything with it. It can take you round the world.”

Pahiatua apprentice motorcycle mechanic Samantha Rufus, 18, agrees. Her boss started out being an apprentice and now he’s got his own business, she says. “You can pretty much go as high as you want.”

Hamilton apprentice builder Nikki Kettle, 19, plans to build her own house. In the meantime she is happy avoiding student loans. “I couldn’t really just rack up debt and then spend the next ten years paying it back. I wanted to be able to do something and it not cost me a million bucks, and actually come out with a good solid qualification that can take me anywhere.”

Hastings apprentice signwriter Lauren Berry, 18, is amazed more women don’t take to signwriting as a career. “I love it. I don’t wake up in the morning and think, “I’ve got to go into work.”

Hamilton electrical and metering technician Kushla Chapman, 24, loves the physical aspect of her job with Tenix, which also involves a lot of travelling. “I’m a hands-on person and I couldn’t picture myself in an office. We’ve got dozens of different sites that we go to, and I really love the travelling.”

Female Modern Apprentices in trades such as building, joinery, glazing, signwriting, mechanical and electrical engineering speak about their experiences in non-traditional trades, and their employers talk about what motivated them to hire women in Give Girls a Go! Female Modern Apprentices in New Zealand.

The report includes stories covering female Modern Apprentices, employers and companies in Christchurch, Hawke’s Bay, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Pahiatua and Wellington. Industries covered are signwriting, building, joinery, motor, electricity supply/electrotechnology and glazing.


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