December 11, 2014

Hey Sistas! The untapped opportunity of women in trades

By Add Author

Kimberley Smyth is currently in the second year of her plumbing apprenticeship. She is co-owner of plumbing business Hey Sista Plumbing which is run with the help of her plumber husband Mark and is based in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and services Brunswick, St Kilda and the inner city suburbs.

The mother of four says she was always interested in the trade as her husband has been in the Industry for eighteen years. “When I said I wanted to be plumber I had a lot of people laugh at me and question me, but it made me more determined,” she said.

The promotion of trades to women in their early years is rarely heard of. A Fanelle survey of 84 female students at a local high school aged 14 – 18 years found that 29% of young women had considered a career in trades but only 11% had been given information or suggestions from a careers teacher regarding trades. It is important to note that this survey also included hairdressing.

As Kim’s business continues to grow she hopes that in the future she can hire more women. “I am hoping to provide a pathway for other women into plumbing, especially mums.” Kimberley and her husband are hoping to become a major industry employer for women. They are currently looking for pathways into larger government jobs to expand their workforce.

Kimberley would like to offer mothers the opportunity to work flexible hours, to allow for the school drop offs and gain a qualification that women can fall back on for life. “Many people told me I couldn’t do it because I have kids, why should I be held back because I have a family?”

A 2013 Ernst and Young study titled Untapped opportunity, the role of women in unlocking Australia’s productivity potential states that “Women in flexible roles waste only 11.1% productivity in a typical day, compared to an average of 14.5% for the rest of the working population. Given 43.2% of women in the workforce work part-time, compared to 13.5% of men, this translates into an important productivity bonus that few employers recognise.” This study has found that collectively “Australian and New Zealand workers could save at least $1.4 billion on wasted wages by employing more productive female employees in flexible roles.”

Kimberley’s business is one of many we hope to see pop up in the near future with 18 of Fanelle’s female apprentices becoming fully qualified in the next 2 years.

It’s easy to see Kimberley loves her job and her teachers at NMIT are very happy with Kim’s progress. Geoff Dixon is one of Kim’s teachers and nominated her for the 2014 Master Plumbers’ Rose Curtis Award which she received earlier this year. “She is very focused and committed to her study, she has a clear career objective in mind.”

The support Kimberley has received from her teachers at NMIT has helped her grow in confidence “Whenever I find myself frustrated with a prac my teachers remind me that I am no different from any other apprentice and that even a plumber with years of experience is continuously learning.” she said.

It can be difficult for women entering the industry, with the common perception that trades are only a career option for men. Kimberley says “I recently went to my eldest daughters Year 11 subject selection information night and was dismayed at the career teacher’s comment that our daughters that did not continue with their education were likely to be unemployed because unlike their male peers, they could not fall back on a trade.” The continuous support and publicity for tradeswomen will help Fanelle break down these barriers.

For all the women considering a trade in plumbing, or wishing to start their own business Kim says “Go for it, an apprenticeship can lead to many career opportunities and although tradeswomen are a minority we are becoming more in demand. Starting my own business was nerve racking but I’ve found that a lot of elderly women have contacted me to complete work because they feel more comfortable and less vulnerable letting a female into their home.”

By sharing stories like Kim’s we hope to encourage other women to consider careers in our Industry. If you teach a female apprentice or know a tradeswomen encourage her to get in touch with our organisation.

Fanelle brings industry and tradespeople together to create awareness and support for women working in the male dominated trade industry. Fanelle's mission is to ensure society and the trade industry adapts to social change by supporting, encouraging and empowering women working in male dominated trades. Fanelle is always looking to get in touch with more women working in the trade industries and expanding its network. Fanelle offers support, social networking and job opportunities and is dedicated to supporting women in the trades and working together to change the perception of "Tradey Ladies". If you would like to become involved, or you teach female apprentices, send an email to info@fanelle.com.au or check out Fanelle's Facebook page or website

If you live in inner-city Melbourne and need a plumber, you can get in contact with Kimberley via her Facebook page or on Twitter