Female tradies: the answer to NZ's building problems?

Are Female Tradies The Answer?


Female tradies: the answer to NZ's building problems?

Can you imagine your daughter, sister or niece working as a tradie? It’s a tough business for hard men, not delicate flowers, right?

Think again. Disruption is affecting everything about the world right now, so it’s no surprise that stereotypical roles we grew up with in the New Zealand building industry are changing as well.

Faced with a critical trade skills crisis, many building companies are re-looking at their hiring processes and seeing a huge untapped resource.

“The whole thing about the industry these days is that it’s not all about brute strength. Quite the opposite. It’s about being smart and in that regard, women and men are equally capable”, says Destination Trades CEO Christina Rogstad.

“Jobs that have become feminised typically have lower wages. Women who move into the construction trades make more money."


Can a woman successfully work in the building industry?

Holly is 23, nearly a year into her apprenticeship as a carpenter and reckons it’s the best thing she has ever done.

Female tradies… Who would have thought? Why would a young woman choose a career in a tough industry like building instead of a more traditional feminine role in hospitality, nursing, retail or such like?

“You get better money as a builder and you get to do a whole lot of different stuff. It’s outdoors in the fresh air, and the prospects of running your own business are amazing."

A Promising Future

“The pay is greater than working in a mall, but more to the point, the future is rosier. Construction activity in New Zealand is set to increase 10 percent every year to 2021 and there is a projected deficit of about 50,000 trades jobs coming up.

With our rapidly changing world and technological advances, the career field that school-leavers will enter into will not be the same as it is currently. A whole list of jobs is redundant now – some don’t exist any more, and some can be done by computers. However, trades are something that people are always going to need.”

Totally Unexpected

“I wanted to be a vet. Then I grew up a bit and discovered I’m a bit squeamish, so I ruled that out. I was uncertain about what I wanted to do and tried a whole lot of things.

"I stayed with my brother in Australia and got a job as a receptionist. Boring. Came back, didn’t have a job, mucked around and in my spare time, ended up sanding tables and making a dog kennel just to keep busy. I liked it and decided to make a career out of it.

I never in a thousand years thought I’d be doing a building apprenticeship, but I did the course at Polytech for level three carpentry and I really loved it.

I went there thinking that I wanted to be a joiner, and then I decided I didn’t want to work in a factory (boring, repetitive). I started working for Atrium Homes about a year ago.”

It’s the Norm Now

“My fellow workers and contractors all did a double take first up, but most of them have gotten used to me.

But every time someone new comes along, they look at me, see what I’m doing, then they look back. I don’t have any negative things come at me, it’s just they’re curious as to why.

They did modify their behaviour to start with and they used to apologise for swearing when things went wrong, and I said don’t worry about it. It’s kind of common talk these days, they’re just words. It doesn’t worry me."

Getting Paid for my Gym Membership

“Do you need to be strong? Not really. I’m five foot eight and about 70 kilos. It’s got to do with that mindset; it’s a male dominated industry so you kind of need big muscles to do the job, but it’s not the case.

I joke with my partner, I’m getting paid for my gym membership, cos that’s what it’s like. You start off and you can’t lift things so you work your way up to it.

When I first started, I’d look at it and say oh my gosh, I can't even lift the end of that. It’s like going to the gym; you get fit as you go.

With OSH rules and stuff, there’s a limit to what you’re allowed to lift, and you’ve always got someone there if you need a hand."

The Yuck Stuff

“I got some flooring glue in my hair once, it wasn’t fun. Had to cut my hair out. I’m not a fan of digging holes, but I don’t know who is. But it gets easier.

I have long hair, but now I tie it up in a bun every single day; same with blokes, they tie up their hair.

Girls can be precious about their hair and make up and clothes. But it doesn’t work in the trades. There’s no point wearing make up because you’d sweat it off in an hour.

In a funny way, that’s liberating, you can be yourself. I don’t have to put on a dress and have nice hair to be relevant.”


“My mum was really supportive. She said: what tools do you need? She wanted to buy me tools. They’re all supportive. My sister tells everyone, hey my sister is an apprentice chippie. She makes me fix everything of hers around the place.

My brother in Australia has plans for me to go over and build him a deck. I’m going to build my own house; my mum’s already got the plans for her granny flat. My partner’s a painter. I say, I’ll build them and you can paint them.”


An Untapped Workforce?

Allan Shaw of Atrium Homes took on Holly as an apprentice not just because she was near the top of the class in her carpentry course, but because he recognised the skill-set that a female offers is precisely what the building industry needs.

“This male-dominated testosterone charged industry needs to change its culture to be more forward thinking. It needs a softer touch. Seriously, it does.”

Attention to Detail

“Traditionally, with many small businesses in the building industry, there are women behind the scenes helping to organise things and lending a hand in sorting out the accounts. Women I think are especially good at that, but they can also bring those skills onto the building site.

That same kind of meticulous attention to detail is what we need on site. Women have different skills, different sensitivities. Holly is especially good at detail stuff and finishing work. She takes her time to get it right.

She worked on an old 1935 mansion style house that we restored and refurbished last year, and as you can imagine, that’s pretty finicky work. She’s very good at that.”

Top of the Class

“The local Polytech usually sends me their best apprentices, the ones that stand out in the groups. Last year, the person I deal with said, hey I’ve got two I would recommend, but one’s a girl.

I paused for a while. Then I said it makes no difference.

I talked with Holly, my wife. Others members of our crew spoke to their partners; you know this is new ground for all of us.

What would happen if your daughter wanted to become a builder? Wouldn’t it be good if there was someone out there who would be willing to take her on?

We deal with a subcontractor who has a female painter, a roofer that has a female roofer, an electrician with a female electrician.

It’s refreshing to know that there are some of us out there that consider women are just as good as we are at doing this kind of work, and in some respects, they’re better.

I’ve said to Holly that if anyone decides to be a smart-ass to you, then you tell me. It doesn't matter whether you’re male or female, I won’t stand for anyone doing that to anyone.”

Our ITM rep, thinks it’s fantastic, he said well done. It should be encouraged. The subbies are the same. They don’t worry about it. It’s great that those old fashioned attitudes are changing.”