For years I’ve been talking to anyone that would listen, promoting women in trade, trying to change people’s attitudes to giving women a chance because I know they are just as capable as men. Most people simply accept the way things are and don’t think to question or challenge what they know. They don’t want to listen to someone they think is on a soapbox, carrying on like a pork chop- yes- that me….
It has been accepted in Australia that the manual trades is men’s work and its not just men that have formed that view. There have been times that challenge those beliefs, such as world wars and during the 1980’s, when for a short time women were encouraged into the trades and women stepped up to the mark and proved themselves just as capable. There are also countless stories, past and current, of women in outback Australia who do whatever needs doing along side the men.
Tradeswomen in the whole of Australia number just over 5000 – we are few and far between and, to survive, you have to very good at what you do and keep your head down- trying not be noticed. But at the moment there is a shift in the tide with politicians, such as Kate Lundy and Pru Goward, and Skills Councils such as CPSISC taking an interest in increasing women’s numbers in trade. SkillsOne have produced masses of excellent information on what both men and women can do. There have also been some great initiatives in Queensland, Victoria and the ACT to show what women are capable of.
The Women in Industry Conference is in Sydney on the 8th and 9th of November. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this – hopefully the coming together of lots of tradeswomen and people that support them which in itself will be a joy and I’m excited to be going. I met up with four tradeswomen last week in Sydney for a photo shoot and the best part of the day for the five of us was the two hours we spent together. But in terms of the future how can we ensure the sustainability of any initiatives in the face of very rigid prejudice?
Last week I also met an extraordinary young woman who came to Australia five years ago. She trained and qualified in Europe as an electrician; she was in the army for six months and is a second dan black belt in karate, which she also taught to young children. But in Australia, where she is the sole support for four people and has to work full time, she has been directed away from her trade and into cleaning. She is desperate to get back into her trade but faces trying to get acceptance in an area were women are as rare as hen’s teeth.
The main problem is her qualification may not be the same as an Australian one and she will need to retrain. She is fine about that but she could need an apprenticeship to do so. That is the sticking point – it is incredibly difficult for any one other than a young man to get an apprenticeship and even if she could get one, she can’t go on to first year wages and support her dependants. She is exactly the type of person that the trades need; capable, intelligent, hard working and practical. I will do every thing I can to help her. I am going with her to see the Electrical Head Teacher at her TAFE next week. I am using the support network created two years ago in Wollongong, Supporting And Linking Tradeswomen or SALT, to try and find an electrician to help with work experience or possible job prospects. I have warned her- this won’t be a straight forward road, it will be hard, there will be lots of knock backs and it will take a lot of work and time …..but she has definitely got what it takes.