Reviving Blue Collar Work: Why the Trades Need Women

It’s no secret that a career in the trades can be quite lucrative. Nevertheless, few parents and teachers would wish their students pick blue-collar work over a university education. As such, fewer and fewer high schools have been teaching trades and encouraging students to explore career opportunities that veer from the university route.

This is doing a disservice to our youth, particularly those who don’t necessarily care for a future in academia or behind a desk anyway. It implies that blue-collar work is not a path worth choosing – that it is somehow lesser than being an office manager or a financial advisor. Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. It is not lesser or better; blue-collar work is just different –different in the same way that a surgeon probably couldn’t develop a mobile app… but nor could that same surgeon together custom made bathroom vanity cabinets.

Beyond trying to funnel all students towards universities without promoting trades in an equally enthusiastic manner, society’s messages tend to discourage women in particular from considering a career in blue-collar trades. It may be considered “normal” for women to pursue a career in some trades, such as jewelery-making, hairdressing and sewing might be considered “normal”. However, most women and girls tend to get the odd side-eye or downright harassment and discrimination for taking on a Red Seal Trade, which include jobs such as welding or operating a mobile crane.

In fact, male-dominated trades are perceived as so unwelcoming and so socially bizarre for a woman to pursue that by the 9th grade, most girls have literally never even considered a career in blue-collar work. It simply never occurs to most women that they could have anything to do with hardwood floors, custom kitchen cabinets or window blinds at all besides picking one out of a catalogue to decorate their homes. 

Luckily, there is a long history of women participating in blue-collar work, even if it’s often been at the beck and call of men. For instance in Europe, the brewing of beer was a female dominated trade for many centuries until cultural norms changed over time. In more recent history, throughout both World Wars, women had to enter the workforce in droves to help build tanks, bombs and more. Today, trade schools are often promoted in so-called “third world countries” as a way to encourage women to take an active role in the economy and in their communities. Why should the same not be true of Canadian women and girls?

 

Barriers Against Women in the Trades

In order to get girls to consider entering blue-collar work such as the Red Seal Trades, social messages have to promote the normalcy of women in trades from early on in a girl’s life. There are, however, many barriers that prevent older girls and women from considering the trades. These must be addressed in order to encourage future generations of girls to seek out a variety of career options, including the trades.

For instance, it has been noted that there seems to be a lack of female role models or mentors who promote blue-collar work and make it seem not only viable, but attractive to girls and women. This plays into the general misconception that women are unwelcome in the trades, which has been socially promoted as a “boys only club”. While there are associations such as Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT) and sponsored initiatives such as the ITA Women in Trades Training (WITT) or the Enhanced General Carpentry for Women (WIST) program, they need more visibility to compete against other career options for women.

Sadly, the misconception of trades being for men only is sometimes grounded in reality. Nobody can deny that social norms tend to kennel women into careers perceived as “nurturing” or “service-oriented”, such as teaching. Trades are then categorized as “dirty” and “masculine”. Furthermore, the existence of CWIT is partially due to the fact that its founders were harassed and humiliated by male coworkers and employers on a regular basis.

Some thirty-odd years later, women do play a slightly more prominent role in the trades, but implicit messages against their participation continue. While actual discrimination and harassment are more strongly frowned upon today than they were in the past, they continue to exist today, as do more implicitly discouraging messages. Women in the trades have pointed out issues such as the lack of uniforms designed with women’s bodies in mind, the lack of easy access to basic facilities such as washrooms, and the lack of legal persecution of those who do harass female coworkers and employees.

 

Trades Tomorrow

These barriers are all the more reason that women and men who are already in the trades should take a more vocal stance against existing problems, in order to encourage a future generation of girls to consider more than the size of the bathroom’s glass tiles or the colour of the bedroom’s roman shades. Why shouldn’t they be the ones behind the cabinet design, or the ones fixing the engine of a car, installing the tiles or putting together the shades? That’s not to say that they have to do any of these things – but shouldn’t the opportunity to do be offered to them at the very least?

The very fact that operating a brewery is often seen as a male-dominated industry today is indicative of the fact that social and cultural norms can change over time. Schools must put as much enthusiasm into promoting blue-collar work as they do into offering the chance of a university education for all. Girls and boys need to grow up believing that a female presence in the trades is completely normal and respectable. With the right social pressures, pedagogical, parental and governmental incentives, in addition to positive, vocal encouragement from existing tradesmen and women, the trades as a whole may one day be revived with an influx of female workers, so long as girls are given the opportunity to consider doing so from a young age.

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Good luck in your search,
Joey

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Joey@careeralley.com
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