Constructing a Place for Women in the Skilled Trades

Bridging gender and diversity gaps can help employers fill vital labor shortages.

Although the number of female construction workers has increased in recent years, the percentage of women construction workers reached a record-high in August 2022. This only highlights how low these numbers were in the past. Women account for nearly half of all workers in the United States, but only 1 out 10 construction workers are women.

Organizations in the skilled trades - jobs that require physical labor and require extensive training, apprenticeships, or education – must now commit more than ever to driving sustainable changes. Employers are missing a huge economic opportunity by not engaging a large portion of the workforce in skilled trades. These careers can be lucrative and rewarding. We can close the skilled workforce gap, boost economic growth, and build a more diverse, inclusive, and stronger workforce by investing intentionally.

In order to fully grasp the potential for women to be empowered in the construction industry, it is important that we understand how the skilled workforce gap has affected the industry. According to a recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of nonresidential special trade contractors, who are responsible only for certain activities on a construction site like pouring concrete and painting but not for the whole project, is still lower than it was before the pandemic. Careers in the skilled trades such as electronic equipment and manufactured building installers and repairers are also among the fastest declining occupations.

As the economy and its workforce recovers from pandemic-related losses, tradespeople who own their businesses also struggle to find talent. The lack of workers in the market is affecting the growth of all businesses.

The skilled trades sector struggles with diversity in addition to the shortage of workers. Construction and skilled professions have traditionally been male-dominated. Consequently, societal expectations have discouraged many young women from pursuing a career in skilled trades.

National Women's Law Center reports that although the number of women working in construction is increasing, only 10% are women. Only 0.6% are Black or Latina.

These numbers may be depressing but the good news in the industry is that perspectives are changing. This is a crucial first step. Nearly nine out of ten tradespeople think that making the trades more inclusive would encourage more women to join. This is also a key component in addressing the shortage of skilled workers.

We can bridge the gap in diversity and skilled labor by working together with organizations and corporations to identify socioeconomic barriers that contribute to the gap.

The Home Depot Foundation is dedicated to its role: we recently announced a scholarship program for women who are entering or already enrolled in programs related to construction trades. The Home Depot Foundation will award each scholarship with $4,000 to help women who are enrolled in construction trades programs. We hope that this will eliminate barriers and position more women in high-paying careers within the skilled trades.

States all over the country recognize the importance of expanding their workforce in revitalizing local economy. In January, Illinois announced an expansion of its preapprenticeship programs for construction and building, aimed at breaking down barriers for women and people from color to enter this field. A few weeks later, Michigan announced a grant of $8 million to support their state's "Ready for Construction" pre-apprenticeship. On a national scale, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 has increased funding for training and apprenticeship programs.

It's important to increase the number of females in the industry. We also need to ensure that diversity is increased overall. This includes offering resources and opportunities for veterans, people from other races, and those who are not pursuing four-year degrees. The skilled trades will continue to be affected if we do not expand our workforce. This is because the demand for skilled workers in the U.S. far exceeds the supply. We can help the skilled trades industry thrive by investing in training programs for those who are not currently qualified and focusing on increasing opportunities for other people.