Historically, the construction and electrical trades have been dominated by male employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 2%-3% of electricians are women. Both industries are currently facing labor shortages, which are anticipated to worsen with the expansion of electric vehicles and charging stations, solar panels and heat pumps as a method of achieving the nation’s climate goals.
According to Rewiring America, an electrification nonprofit, one million more electricians are needed in the United States.
“There are 80,000 openings for electricians each year on average over the next decade just to replace workers who either retire or transition to different jobs,” said Sam Calisch, head of special projects at Rewiring America. He believes that number will increase due to the Inflation Reduction Act.
Attracting more women to the industry could help resolve the labor shortage. It could also help close the gender wage gap. Electricians earned an annual wage over $60,000 in 2021, according to the BLS, with some master electricians earning six-figure salaries. Other occupations combined averaged $45,000.
What will it take to get more women interested in taking up a trade? “We don’t do a good job marketing ourselves as an industry in general, but particularly with women,” said Allie Perez, a plumber and founder of Texas Women in the Trades.
While some obstructions are common to both genders¾such as a culture that values four-year college degrees as the primary road to success, and lack of investment in technical schools¾some obstacles tend to be more gender-specific.
Accounts of harassment and abuse of women in the trades are widespread. Lack of visibility, exclusionary unions and a “good ol’ boy” network are other impediments. Connie Ashbrook, retired construction worker and co-chair of the National Taskforce on Tradeswomen’s Issues, said, “This is the highest-paid blue-collar work you can get without a college degree. Not having access to these careers keeps women in poverty.” However, she added, “If you’re not friends with the boss, or … with significant numbers of your co-workers, then you don’t get to hear about the jobs.”
Childcare is a common hindrance for female workers. Ashbrook helped garner a $2 million investment from Oregon state officials in 2009 toward diversifying its highway construction workforce. Some of the money was applied to pre-apprenticeship programs and support services, including childcare. A 2022 report found this improved retention rates.
The Biden administration promised to work toward doubling the number of women in the construction industry over 10 years. The program office associated with the CHIPS and Science Act (legislation designed to boost the semiconductor industry) released a funding opportunity that includes a requirement for applicants seeking more than $150 million dollars to submit a plan detailing childcare provisions.
Other solutions include tax incentives in the IRA climate legislation for contractors hiring apprentices. This could reduce high drop-out rates of women. GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit building community-powered renewable energy solutions, recruits female trainees for solar installations and offers women-only training.
About The Author
Lori Lovely is an award-winning writer and editor in central Indiana. She writes on technical topics, heavy equipment, automotive, motorsports, energy, water and wastewater, animals, real estate, home improvement, gardening and more. Reach her at: [email protected]