Educating women on the opportunities is the “first step” to seeing more in the workplace

Women are still significantly under-represented in the trades, and several barriers add to this problem.

According to Toni Christie, general manager of employer and learner support at Competenz, the biggest barrier is “the opinion held by many that the trades are for men”, along with the “lack of knowledge about the opportunities that exist within trades for women”.

“There is a real opportunity for more employers to be willing to create suitable working environments for women as often women feel they must adapt to the male-dominated culture that exists in a business,” says Christie.

While there has been a gradual shift with more women taking on a trade apprenticeship or training, only 12% of trade jobs across all industries in New Zealand are held by women.

When Christie started her career 28 years ago at a large oil company, the industry was male-dominated.

“I was a business advisor to the independent service stations, a role historically not help by a woman,” she says. “I came up against a huge amount of resistance from the service station owners who felt uneasy about a woman holding the role.

“As a consequence, I felt I had to continually prove to myself and to the customers, that I could excel in the role. In the end I was successful and believe it contributed to paving the way for more women to take on these traditional ‘male’ roles.

“With hard work and determination, I had to overcome barriers I felt simply should not have existed.”

Today, Christie continues advocating for women in the industry in her work at Competenz which promotes work-based training for 37 sectors including manufacturing and mechanical engineering.

Currently, women attribute to 14% of apprentices and trainees across the sectors that Competenz promotes – above the national average of 12%.

“While the employers we work with are training more women in trades, we have an enormous amount of work to do to encourage more females into a rewarding trades career,” says Christie.

Jadzia Pyne is halfway through her fitting and machining engineering apprenticeship. She was the only female in her engineering class and now the only female in the workplace where she is training.

“While my workplace is very professional and respectful of me as the only female, I do experience discrimination often from visitors at work. It could be weird looks from visitors who are surprised to see a woman on the tools, or assumptions that I work in the office,” says Pyne.

“It can be challenging when there aren’t any other women around to support you, but I see myself as someone carving out a path for other women to join me and pursue a trade.”

And not only should the inequality equal out, but attracting more women into the trades is also essential to address the skills and labour shortage.

As Pyne says, “women can do anything”.