In 2018, Wellington-based plumbing company Hutt Gas and Plumbing took home the Master Plumber of the Year award, making headlines as it was not only run by a woman, Colleen Upton, but employed three of the 22 women plumbing apprentices in New Zealand. Later in the year, the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) held its annual Excellence Awards, with company president Jenny Parker commenting on “the growing impact women are having on New Zealand’s construction industry”. This year’s awards will take place in Auckland in September, in partnership with the Building and Construction Industry Trading Organisation (BCITO). Increasingly, women tradies are seen as an integral part of the future of Kiwi construction, with bodies such as BCITO looking to lure more ladies in.
More than 65,000 construction workers are needed over the next few years, half of which need to be trade-qualified.Chief executive of BCITO, Warren Quinn, says that the sector is desperate for workers and the traditional workforce pool is not meeting demand, meaning increasing “gender diversity is vital”.
“BCITO is working hard to figure out how it can boost female participation in the industry,” he says, “including leading a group of organisations involved in a three-year research project by the Ministry for Women and National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence.”
A survey of female apprentices by BCITO found that 96 percent had strong job satisfaction, yet nearly three-quarters of them had never taken part in any kind of construction-related courses at school. In fact, it’s so far off most women’s radar that more than two-thirds of all female apprentices had other jobs before they began. Case in point, Nerida Laws who worked in retail for seven years before hooking up with BCITO before securing a position with JFS Interiors in Queenstown.
“Working in trades gives you a fantastic work-life balance and a steady income,” she says. “I love the team environment of working on-site and the sense of accomplishment you get when you complete a job.”
Courtney Brown was in the final year of her business degree when she felt a calling for what turned out to be a role in construction, securing a role with CKG Electrical in Auckland. “I feel blessed actually,” she tells Women in Trades. “I can use my business degree to help with the admin side of the business, while at the same time I’m getting to spend every day taking on new and exciting challenges.”
CKG Electrical boss, Craig Kilby, says that he’s lucky to have her on his team: “There won’t be a shortage of work as the industry grows, and having keen young workers is a benefit to not only the industry, but NZ Inc. as a whole.”
With the introduction of fee free schemes that cover students’ costs for up to two years of industry-based training, Warren Quinn says that “there has never been a better time to consider a career in the trades”.
“We are seeing more and more females on site,” says Paul Fallon of JFS Interiors “It might have been unusual 10 or 20 years ago, but it’s almost commonplace now. While the work can be physical, there’s minimal heavy lifting. There are no ways in which women are any better or worse than the guys.”
A sentiment echoed by Christina Rogstad, CEO of Destination Trades. “The whole thing about the industry these days is that it’s not all about brute strength,” she says. “Quite the opposite. It’s about being smart and in that regard, women and men are equally capable. Jobs that have become feminised typically have lower wages. Women who move into the construction trades make more money.”
Career prospects for some of the most popular trades with the ladies
Crane Operator: $18-35 per hour; less than two years training; average demand.
Electrician: $42,000-70,000 per year; 3-4 years training; demand is high.
Telecommunications Technician: $39,000-70,000 per year; four years training; in high demand.
Roofer: $14-40 per hour; training varies; demand is high.
Plumber, Gasfitter, Drainlayer: $52,000-79,000; training lasts 2-4 years; these trades are in high demand.