Remember that baby boom after World War II? Well, those “babies” are in their 50s, 60s and 70s now. If they haven’t retired already, it won’t be long. We know that our rapidly aging population is partially responsible for the growth in healthcare occupations. It’s also creating a labor gap in the trades fields, and American industry is having to look outside the regular job pool to fill positions in the construction workforce. Women in skilled trades and women in non-traditional occupations are in demand.

History shows that women have stepped up before.

Before the baby boom, the construction workforce experienced a drastic shortage as men were being called away to war. Out of necessity, women were forced to fill in and do the work that men traditionally did. You may remember seeing posters of the icon for the female worker of the day, Rosie the Riveter. In 1943, a song called “Rosie the Riveter” summed up the work of women in welding during this rough time: “Rosie’s got a boyfriend, Charlie//Charlie, he’s a Marine//Rosie is protecting Charlie//Working overtime on the riveting machine.”

It turned out that women not only could run the family; they could also handle the work that men traditionally did. “Everyone stops to admire the scene//Rosie at work on the B-Nineteen//She’s never twittery, nervous or jittery//Rosie the Riveter.” The war has long ended, but the labor shortage means there will be more opportunities for women – women in welding, women in HVAC and women in electrical trades.

Why women should consider a career in the trades

The support for women in trades is strong. It has to be because of the need. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for HVAC mechanics and installers are expected to grow 15 percent through 2026. Construction of new power-generation facilities and pipelines are making the job outlook for welders look good, especially for those trained in the latest technologies or who are willing to relocate. The same prospects hold true for electricians – especially in the alternative power fields of solar and wind energy.

Besides the encouraging job outlook, why should women consider a career in the trades?

  • They’re jumping into other male-dominated fields and now outnumber men in some of them, such as accounting, so why not the trades?
  • The disparity in pay between men and women is narrowing. According to the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), women make up 9 percent of the construction industry. Forbes magazine reports that women are earning just above the median pay for both men and women in construction, even though they hold just 3 percent of those jobs. The earning potential is there.
  • Showing their competence and leading by example lets girls know that working in trades is not only acceptable but also encouraged.
  • Women skilled in trades are eliminating the social stigma. Gender roles are changing and expanding throughout society, and new doors are opening everywhere for women. All they need to do is pass through them.
Women entered into skilled trade programs

The benefits of a skilled trades education

Students continue to go to four-year colleges that promise a great education and many career options, but that is also another reason for the decrease in the number of skilled trades workers, from CDL drivers to HVAC technicians and welders. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that by 2022, one-third of new jobs will be in fields that do not require a four-year college degree, which can cost an average of $9,716 per year for a public, in-state school and $21,629 for a public, out-of-state school. Private schools cost even more.

On top of the costs, today’s college grads are discovering the job prospects aren’t all that promising. A report issued by Burning Glass and the Strada Institute shows that 43 percent of recent grads are underemployed in their first job out of college – and many have outstanding loans to pay.

Trade school can be affordable education. It prepares students for a vocation faster than a traditional college – usually in less than two years and sometimes in as few as three weeks. With this minimal time commitment, a student who completes a trades program can be out earning an income in no time. Plus, the average tuition is only $3,000 to $15,000 a year, and some schools offer scholarship opportunities.

For women, choosing a trade school can be an excellent choice, providing flexible schedules to accommodate work and family obligations.

How Women of HVAC can help

Many opportunities are available for women who have HVAC skills. However, it never hurts to have an advocate. Women of HVAC brings awareness of the need for women in the field, showcases those who are already HVAC professionals, and provides women with the necessary tools to begin their careers in HVAC skilled trades. Contact Women of HVAC to find schools that offer HVAC programs, as well as resources, opportunities and support for those already in the field.