When was the last time you saw, or received a female plumber or electrician in your home to fix a clogged drain or frayed wire? Probably never! Although the majority of South African companies consist of at least 50% female employees, you will only find an average of one woman for every 100 men on a construction site.
South Africa cannot wait to meet the labor demand for trained tradesmen and currently needs double the number of people per year who have these much-needed skills. Trades such as plumbing and electrical services are not only ideal if you don’t want to work for a boss or in an office, but – given South Africa’s sky-high unemployment rate – have staggering potential to provide jobs for young people.
Yet many still turn up their noses at this “dirty work”, despite the assured demand for their services and solid, almost guaranteed income. According to Donna Rachelson, director of Seed Academythe enormous demand creates a golden opportunity for women to make their mark as enterprising artisans.
“According to the Aspen Institute artisans are the second largest employer in developing economies. This is crucial for strategic infrastructure projects, which we know are needed in South Africa, so there are great opportunities for enterprising tradespeople,” says Rachelson.
According to the South African Plumbing Institute and Statistics SA, women currently make up only 5.4% of plumbers and other tradesmen in South Africa. “This is shockingly low considering that almost half of South African households are headed by women.
“The good news is that approximately 45% of students enrolled in vocational programs at TVET colleges (colleges for technical and vocational education and training) are women. Programs include civil engineering, construction, electrical infrastructure and mechatronics.
“Women bring a valuable perspective, as they often see things that men do not, just as men see things that women may not. For example, some female homeowners feel more comfortable with female plumbers. Many women who live alone feel uncomfortable when a man they don’t know has to do work in and around their home. A qualified woman can easily provide the same service,” says Rachelson.
Outdated gender roles
According to Rachelson, women hold up to 12% of jobs in the construction industry in the US, Canada and Europe. “In South Africa, a mere 3% of construction workers are female, most of whom perform office work. Dozens of studies have shown that companies with female leaders have a competitive advantage, so it makes sense that construction companies that reflect gender diversity are typically more profitable as well,” she says.
Innovative thinking is needed about traditionally “male” professions. “Girls are missing out on lucrative and exciting career options. Plumbers and construction workers earn excellent wages and possess recession-proof skills. We must therefore create more opportunities for women to earn their living in this way, take care of their families and grow their businesses, which in turn employ more people and create jobs.
“It is for this reason that we AccelerateHerprogram to empower women to disrupt traditionally male-dominated sectors. At the same time, companies can transform their supply chains and establish enterprise and supplier development points (Enterprise and Supplier Development or ESD) earn,” she says.
“The program takes a holistic approach to the development of women entrepreneurs. It builds business skills as well as technical and social skills, while tackling psychosocial issues and the challenges women experience in the business world.
“Obstacles faced by female tradespeople include gender stereotyping, a lack of mentorship and career networks, and sexual harassment. If we don’t tackle these obstacles and make it possible for more women to enter the craft sector, the gender imbalance will remain skewed.
“Imagine the benefits we could unlock if we help women succeed in this space? Not only women will benefit from this, but the country’s economy as a whole,” says Rachelson.
Leave a Reply