Inside Construction is proud to announce we have partnered with Empowered Women in Trades (EWIT). This month, Hannah Keirl, Head of Commercial EWIT, delves into the importance of gender equality in the construction industry.

It’s safe to say it has been a tumultuous couple of years for Australia, and it has affected us all in a number of ways – some of which are only surfacing now. The construction industry has been plagued with skills shortages, material shortages, and a burnt-out workforce.

What’s worse is the national average of women’s participation in trades-based industries has increased only from one per cent to three per cent in ten years. At the same time, research by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) shows a decline in the number of women completing a trade, which is down 6.3 per cent from 2020. This creates a major issue for the construction sector in the face of the government’s new quotas, requiring at least 40 per cent participation of women across projects by 2024.

But that’s changing. Post-pandemic we’re meeting woman after woman who wants to get outside, be hands-on and be a part of the build – incrementally right now, but at a far greater rate than any time in the past decade.

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Attracting, recruiting and retaining talent is a challenge we’re all facing. We know it costs far less to retain than to attract and recruit – in fact the average recruitment cost per position is around $23,000 according to the HR Industry Benchmark Survey 2021 Australia and New Zealand – so to do this, industry is having to make changes too.

For EWIT in 2022, we’ve focused on the attraction and retention elements of this equation. Through Trade Academy, we inspire women to pick up the tools, to manufacture a better future, and to construct a more equitable world. More than 350 women and female students have, to date, participated in at least one of our programs (which range from one day to three weeks).

It’s extraordinary to watch the journey that each woman goes through in our Experience Trades programs, from the screening and interviewing where nerves are evident but the curiosity overwhelming, to the gasps and cheers of joy when they’re granted their Scholarship place.

On the first day, as they lace up their work boots and try on their hi-vis, there is a genuine sense of nervous excitement coursing through the room. We meet Tradie Trailblazers and discuss what the following few weeks will look like. We work with each of the women through positive psychology frameworks to build Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishments (PERMA) – and fill their toolbox with our strategic partner Maxme’s human skills.

These are the tools that cement the foundation for their success. The next few days see each of the participants get their applicable tickets required to be out on site, followed by two or three weeks of work experience. We touch base with each participant multiple times over this duration, coach them through the highs and lows, work out which (human skill) tool needs to be pulled out the toolbox during miscommunications or when the fatigue sets in the first time. It’s physical, and at times overwhelming, but it’s rewarding.

We round out the experience by holding celebrations with industry partners, training organisations, subcontractors and all the teams who have made this possible. It’s an opportunity to share, connect and form a growing and impactful community of empowered women in trades.

This year, 71 per cent of our Experience Trades participants have gone on to work in trades, from plumbing pre-apprenticeships to crane operations and everything in-between.

For us, this is just the beginning. It’s with partners like Kapitol Group and the Southern Program Alliance that we’re able to aid in this progress.

To stimulate a pipeline of future talent to the sector, Kapitol have partnered with us at EWIT, and we’ll be engaging with multiple Victorian schools to educate females on the opportunities both in trades and within the construction industry. Through Tool Skills programs, not only will these students get hands on the tools, but they’ll get their white cards and head out on Kapitol’s sites in a holistic, immersive experience. Similar programs are open for women who are under-employed, unemployed, returning to the workforce or seeking a career change.

As Kapitol’s founder and joint Managing Director David Caputo says, “Construction and trades can be great jobs to work in, particularly in terms of flexibility and remuneration, but unfortunately that has not been the experience for many women, who remain in the minority.”

“We need to address this disparity and increase female representation, not just to address headcount in this era of labour shortages, but to reap the benefits of having diverse perspectives on site and in the office.”

EWIT Founder Hacia Atherton on the tools.

EWIT’s CEO Hacia Atherton says that men are equally a part of this equation of building a more equitable workforce in a growing and lucrative industry.

“While there are many benefits for women for working in construction, having a female presence on-site benefits men too,” she says. “Studies – like RMIT University School of Property, Construction and Project Management’s Women in Construction: Exploring the Barriers and Supportive Enablers of Wellbeing in the Workplace report – show that men take less risks when women are on site and their mental-wellbeing improves.”

“The process of gender inclusion can’t be placed on the shoulders of one party alone because the journey is shared by everyone.

“It is essential that support is in place for all along this journey and psychologically safe spaces are created for men, women and non-binary [people] to speak about challenges and discomforts that they face during this change.”

As we continue to inspire more women to join trades and trades-based industries, we are thrilled to see the community grow, develop and drive inclusivity.

EWIT is looking forward to 2023 as we continue to support the journey of all aspiring and qualified Tradie Ladies. Who’s with us?

This story originally appeared on Inside Construction Magazine.

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