Monday, April 24, 2017

Trades once dominated by men are seeking women to boost their aging, declining workforces

Bridget Booker, journeywoman ironworker,
East Peoria, Ill. (Washington Post photo)
An aging workforce and a declining interest in vocational education are leading male-dominated industries to recruit women, Danielle Paquette reports for The Washington Post. "By 2029, all of the baby boomers will be older than 65, meaning one-fifth of the U.S. population will have reached retirement age. Millennials, the workers who would replace them, aren’t as interested in pursuing careers in the trades." Data from the National Education Association show that average enrollment in vocational education has dropped since 1990 from 4.2 credits to 3.6.

Paquette notes that another reason for the decline in male workers is that men are more likely to be addicted to opioids. Harry Holzer, a public policy professor at Georgetown University and former chief economist for the Labor Department, told Paquette, “You hear about a lack of job readiness, an inability to pass a drug test. It makes sense that these employers regard women as a group that expands the applicant pool and at a higher-quality level.”

This month the Ironworkers union "leaped to the cutting edge of the effort, becoming the first building trades union to offer up to eight months of paid maternity leave to pregnant women and new moms," Paquette writes. "Not that many of their folks hauling rebar or scaling skyscrapers will take them up on the offer: Only 2 percent of the group’s 130,000 North American members are women."

Eric Dean, president of the union, said they "want to attract and retain more journeywomen, who tend to quit at a higher rate," Paquette reports. Dean told her, "The whole world is suffering the baby-boomer retirement tsunami. All the construction trades are in competition for capable people. We have to innovate if we want different results."

Cate Taylor, a professor of gender studies and sociology at Indiana University, said one problem is "recruiting women into a historically male space—and keeping them around—isn't as easy as adding family-friendly benefits," Paquette writes. For instance, a Labor Department study found that almost 90 percent of female construction workers have dealt with sexual harassment on the job.

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