A few years ago a friend’s kids, Hendrix and Neave, finished high school. They live in a country town and are pretty active in the local community. Before Hendrix finished school a friend of the family offered him a plumbing apprenticeship. A year later, as Neave’s final year of school was coming to an end, her mother lamented that Neave didn’t know what she wanted to do. She hated school and had no interest in studying full-time. I asked why Neave didn’t consider an apprenticeship like her brother. My friend laughed, ‘Are you kidding? Neave wouldn’t go near a job that meant she had to get dirty. She’ll leave that to the boys.’
Trades traditionally done by men, such as plumbing, automotive, carpentry and electrical make up fourteen percent of Australian jobs and most girls don’t see them as an option. Trades pay well but sixty percent of female workers gather in historically low paying industries; clerical and administrative, community and personal services workers and sales workers.
So what did Neave decide on? After a few stops and starts, she studied and found work in a childcare centre. It’s hard work but she loves the kids. What she doesn’t enjoy is the dismal pay. But with ninety-seven percent of childcare workers female, it’s no surprsie that it’s a low paying industry. Currently childcare workers are fighting to be paid a living wage. According to Lisa Bryant from ABC News, they don’t look to win the fight.
Early childhood educators and teachers, the people who run our childcare centres will walk off the job today, again, in their pursuit of living wages.
And once again they won’t get them.
How’s Hendrix going?
Hendrix is doing well. He recently finished his apprenticeship and has saved enough for an overseas trip. He’s pretty sure he deserves the pay he gets, he works hard for it and I agree with him. I also think Neave works hard but she won’t be planning an overseas trip anytime soon. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
In Australia today men out earn women in every industry and across all occupations. In fact our 2016/17 data set tells us that men on average earn just over twenty six thousand dollars a year more than women.
In Western Australia the State Government is trying to address the gender pay gap by supporting more women to take up trades. “Getting more women into trades traditionally done by men is crucial to addressing the 24 per cent gender pay gap in WA, the State Government says. ”
Tradies volunteer to pass on their skills
SALT, Supporting and Linking Tradeswomen, was established by tradeswomen to support and link tradeswomen and those interested in pursuing trades. One way to achieve their goals has been to run free workshops. They hope to reach as many girls and women as possible and demystify the use of power tools. Without any ongoing government funding, they rely on tradeswomen and tradesmen volunteering their time. To date they have run almost one hundred workshops in NSW, ACT and VIC.
We felt that women did not generally have the basic knowledge of generic tool use, which are used in almost all trades, but they also didn’t know that they could easily do this type of work either. It was a classic case of not knowing what you don’t know.
Tradie, Rebecca Mair, took her daughter, Indy, along to a workshop. Ms Mair told the ABC News, “It was amazing to see the look on her face when she used a drop saw for the first time. It made me quite teary. I was really pleased.”
The workshops aren’t just for those curious about a career in trades, their oldest participant so far was a ninety-six year old. Learning the skills taught in the workshops can increase women’s confidence and independence. This can be particularly true in situations where control has been taken from them. Painter and decorator, Fiona Shewring, told ABC News.
“We were donated some locks for doors and initially I was thinking what are we going to do with these and then I thought, we’ll teach women to change locks which in any situation is great but especially important if you’re in a domestic violence situation because then you’re in control of your life.”
If Neave had attended one of SALT’s workshops prior to finishing school, she might not have dismissed a trade as a job more suitable for boys. She might have still chosen childcare as her career and that’s great, we need good childcare workers. But at least Neave may have been able to look at all her options critically and not through the lens of gender.