A Guide for Women in Skilled Trades

portrait of Stefanie Grodman
by Stefanie Grodman
Published on October 19, 2021
Reviewed by Laila Abdalla, Ph.D., and Sarah Holliday, MS, GCDF

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As the cost of postsecondary education continues to rise, many individuals are choosing to pursue trade careers. Vocational college or trade school can offer relatively fast, affordable paths to stable, high-paying work. For students unable or uninterested in attending expensive colleges, trades can provide opportunities for well-compensated employment and upward social mobility.

Currently, a large majority of trade school students and graduates are men. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), women — who represent about 47% of the total workforce in the U.S. — made up just 8.4% of construction managers, 3.2% of carpenters, and 3.1% of electricians in 2020. Many lucrative trade careers are male-dominated, indicating that women are not granted the same access to these roles. Advancing equity for women in skilled trades can help them enter in-demand careers and earn higher wages.

What Are Skilled Trade Jobs?

Skilled trade jobs, including carpenters, plumbers, HVAC technicians, and automotive technicians, require in-depth training and a well-developed understanding of specialized techniques focused on safety protocols, tools, and equipment. Skilled tradespeople often complete vocational programs and apprenticeships to hone their technical proficiencies.

In contrast to skilled trade professionals, unskilled trade workers (e.g., wire-pullers and demolition clean-up personnel) perform more routine tasks to assist in specialized projects. Although they receive some on-the-job training and learn important job site safety protocols, they typically do not need extensive technical training.

Why Women Should Consider Skilled Trades

Men currently dominate the skilled trades workforce. However, women have the opportunity to provide valuable new perspectives and help address worker shortages — all while enjoying the advantages of a trade career.

Trade school can provide an excellent return on investment for those looking to start lucrative careers without the financial commitment of a four-year degree. Many students pay roughly $5,000-$15,000 total to attend trade school. In contrast, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average annual cost of tuition and fees at a four-year institution during the 2018-2019 academic year was $16,318.

In addition to the relative affordability of trade schools compared to four-year colleges, many trade jobs offer excellent salaries. For example, according to the BLS, elevator and escalator installers and repairersearned a median annual wage of $88,540.

Trade school programs also take less time to complete than bachelor's degree programs. Most students finish their vocational training in less than two years, and many complete programs in just a few months. For this reason, trade school can be an excellent option for women, whether they are eager to enter the workforce for the first time or are looking to pivot their careers.

Tradespeople are often self-employed or work for smaller companies. This additional agency and flexibility can be an excellent fit for parents, young people, or anyone with an entrepreneurial mindset.

The Trade Job Shortage

The skilled trades are usually known for their reliability. Many trade workers produce essential products, provide necessary services, and help maintain infrastructure. These skills are usually needed — even during challenging economic times — and there may be an increasing shortage of qualified workers in the coming years.

According to Forbes, just 6.5 million skilled workers were available to fill 7.6 million open jobsin 2019. Because of this shortage, women interested in pursuing a skilled trade should benefit from favorable employment trends.

Skilled Trade Jobs For Women

Read the list below to learn about some of the most popular career paths for skilled workers. Keep in mind that these are just a few of the many possible careers — there are dozens of other trade career options available.

Construction Trades

Motive Power Trades

Service Trades

Industrial Trades

Pros and Cons of Skilled Trades

Pros

Cons

Occupational segregation can perpetuate economic disadvantages for women workers. According to Catalyst, in 2019, 26 of the 30 highest-paying occupations were dominated by men, while 23 of the 30 lowest-paying occupations were dominated by women.

Women in skilled trades dominated by men may also be more vulnerable to harassment. In a 2017 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 28% of women in male-dominated fields reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace — higher than the 20% of women who reported sexual harassment in work places dominated by women.

Additionally, women job seekers who consider pursuing skilled trades may be concerned about potential harassment, intimidation, or social stigma. As a result, women make up a small percentage of professionals in trade occupations. For example, according to the BLS, only 3.8% of welders, 2.3% of plumbers, and 1.5% of HVAC technicians were women in 2020.

For example, many students supplement their training with apprenticeships. On the job, new professionals have the opportunity to observe experienced workers. They may also learn additional relevant skills, such as bookkeeping.

Skilled Trades Education Options

Shorter program lengths, streamlined curricula, results-driven work, and comparative affordability make vocational training an excellent option for people from all walks of life.

Trade Schools for Women

Vocational programs equip learners with the knowledge they need for skilled trade jobs. Some students choose to pursue their training throughcommunity colleges, though many of these institutions require participants to complete general education requirements. In contrast, trade schools allow students to focus almost exclusively on occupation-specific skills. Depending on the trade and state-specific regulations, vocational programs may prepare learners for licensing or certification exams.

Although options vary, most training programs do not exceed two years. Additionally, many shorter certification programs condense curricula into several weeks to a few months. During their training, learners gain supervised, hands-on experience focusing on essential tools, equipment, techniques, and safety protocols.

Women in Trades Scholarships

Although technical training tends to be more affordable than attending a four-year college or university, trade school can still be a significant financial investment. Fortunately, there are numerous organizations specifically designed to provide women with scholarships.

For example, Tulsa Welding School offers the Women in the Skilled Trades Scholarshipfor students in need of additional financial aid. A similar scholarship exists at the Refrigeration School in Phoenix, Arizona. These financial aid programs encourage women to pursue careers where they are traditionally underrepresented.

Apprenticeships

Individuals entering trade fields often begin their careers with apprenticeships. Sometimes trade unions pair workers with more experienced professionals so that they can observe the daily operations of their chosen occupation.

In some cases, aspiring trade professionals can complete an apprenticeship in lieu of attending trade school or completing other formal technical training. However, this depends on the field and state-specific regulations.

Some states require skilled workers to complete a set number of apprenticeship hours before they can obtain a license. Fortunately, most apprenticeships are paid, and apprentices can earn intermittent pay raises as they gain experience.

Other Resources for Women in Skilled Trades

Frequently Asked Questions About Women in Skilled Trades

What percentage of trade jobs are held by women?

According to NPR, women make up approximately 3% of trade professionals. More specifically, according to the BLS, 3.8% of welders, 2.3% of plumbers, and 1.5% of HVAC technicians were women as of 2020. Although these tiny percentages have climbed in recent decades, trade professions have been slower to diversify than many other male-dominated areas like STEM fields, law, and finance.

What is the highest-paying trade?

Some trade professionals earn excellent salaries. Elevator and escalator installers and repairers, for example, earned a median income of $88,540 in 2020, and those employed by the government earned a median of $96,530. In the same year, radiation therapists earned a median salary of $86,850 and dental hygienists earned $77,090.

What skilled trade jobs are in high demand right now?

The BLS projects that jobs for massage therapists will grow by 32% between 2020 and 2030 — much faster than the average projected growth across all occupations (8%). During the same period, jobs for hairstylists are projected to grow 19% and positions for chefs are projected to increase 25%. Some occupations and industries are projected to undergo even more rapid growth. For example, jobs for wind turbine technicians are projected to grow 68% from 2020-2030.


Career Counselor Reviewed by:

Sarah Holliday is a higher education administrator with over seven years of experience working with nontraditional and traditional-aged students in various areas related to career development, professional development, and personal enrichment. In addition to coaching students, Holliday works as an adjunct, teaching English, career development, and business courses in asynchronous, hybrid, and synchronous formats. Holliday holds a BA from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in English communication and technology and a master's from Walden University in instructional design and technology (training and performance improvement). She is currently pursuing her doctor of science in information and interaction design from the University of Baltimore. Holliday also possesses her Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF) certificate from the Center for Credentialing and Education. She is passionate about education and technology and hopes to strengthen online learning for adult learners.

Sarah Holliday is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.


Anti-Bias Review by:

Laila Abdalla obtained her Ph.D. in English from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She taught undergraduate and graduate courses in English and successful writing at Central Washington University for over 21 years. Abdalla has devoted her teaching and leadership to matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Above all, she is committed to her students' complete experience, raising awareness of BIPOC issues in language, community, and culture. Abdalla leads with equity in management and nonprofit volunteering, and continues to develop her own understandings of these complex issues both professionally and in her lived experiences.


Laila Abdalla is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.

People of color in skilled trades can find rewarding career opportunities as companies look to fill skilled trades jobs in a variety of industries. Skilled trades provide stable, in-demand employment during uncertain times. Read our guide to learn about the fastest routes to skilled trade jobs. Not every career requires a bachelor's degree. If you're considering entering a vocation, check out these popular — and lucrative — trade school jobs.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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