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Learning a trade as a woman in the UK

Rhino Trade Insurance 26 May 2023

There’s no point pretending that women haven’t had it tough when it comes to pursuing careers in the trade industries. Think of all the ‘hilarious’ jokes you’ve heard about female mechanics. And the jokes aren’t even the worst part. 

Harassment, stereotypes and blatant bias have been harming women’s development in the skilled trades ever since a woman first picked up a spanner.

However, Rhino are pleased to report that things are changing, and more women than ever are pursuing careers in the skilled trades here in the UK.

If you’re a woman keen to get started, there’s a few things you should be aware of first.

Why should a woman go into the trades?

Firstly, why is it important to attract women to skilled trade work? 

The first reason is demand. There’s always a need for good plumbers, builders, carpenters, gas engineers, carpet fitters, glaziers and joiners. These are jobs that aren’t likely to be nabbed by a robot any time soon – something not all professions can guarantee.

There’s currently a skills and labour shortage in the UK when it comes to tradespeople. Whether you believe this is down to Brexit, the pandemic, the older generation of skilled tradesmen heading for retirement or something else entirely, all that matters is there are plenty of opportunities out there for talented tradies – whether they’re male or female.

Being your own boss is a big draw for anyone – and for women it can be especially advantageous to have a flexible schedule around childcare or caregiving commitments. The ability to set your own hours and pick up work at a time to suit you is another reason why there should be more women in trades.

When you consider things like the promise of a good salary, good career progression and the fact that trade work can be extremely interesting, varied and fulfilling, you can see why a trade career might be the perfect fit for women.


Does the public want female tradespeople?

The answer is a definite yes. In 2018, the Federation of Master Builders published survey results indicating that around 1/3 of homeowners in London would actually prefer a female tradesperson to a male one.

The reasons for this are varied – and range from feeling more comfortable with a woman working in their home to wanting to support women in under-represented professions. The reasons aren’t the important thing here, though. What matters is that there is high demand for skilled female tradespeople – and where’s there’s demand, there’s opportunity. 


The importance of women pursuing skilled trades

It’s important for women to enter the trades because it can be a highly rewarding, lucrative and fulfilling profession – and why should women miss out?

Whereas trade life definitely won’t suit every woman (or every man for that matter), there are plenty of women out there who would rather be tinkering with a boiler, shower stall or electrics box than staring at a computer screen all day. 

As we march towards increased gender equality in the workforce here in the UK, it seems out-of-date and unfair that men dominate trade work when there are women out there willing to learn the right skills and dive into a hands-on career. And the fact that some women might be put off pursuing interesting and varied careers due to societal attitudes in quite frankly unacceptable in this day and age. 


Challenges Women Face When Entering Male-Dominated Trades

So, what sort of challenges do women face when training for and carrying out trade work? The below examples are unfortunately just a few…


Stereotypes and bias in the workplace

Stereotypes and bias have held women back in the world of work for centuries, and we hope you’ll agree that it’s time to retire them. The idea of trade work being a ‘man’s world’ where sexism and misogyny rule is unhelpful and damaging to women who have what it takes to succeed in a trade career.

If you’re a tradesman struggling to adjust to the idea, it’s beneficial to reframe your thinking. Women on the job site doesn’t mean and end to banter, or slower progression of jobs. A woman with the right skills will be an asset to any project and shouldn’t face any issues due to being female. Treating a woman differently on account of her gender (rather than her performance) amounts to workplace gender-based bullying and can get you in serious trouble. 


Lack of female role models

Female tradespeople have historically been as rare as hen’s teeth. They may have always existed, but they certainly weren’t the norm.

While this is changing gradually, it’s still likely that you don’t know any female plumbers, sparkies, brickies or gas engineers yourself. However, the women who are making their mark as pioneers in the trades act as role models and inspiration to girls and women who might be curious about what trade life might be like. 

Social media is amazing for keeping up with the next generation of female tradespeople – from a ‘day in the life of’ vlogs, a rundown of the best skilled trades for women, to reels of them changing a soil pipe in record time – there’s a lot of content out there waiting for you.


Physical demands of certain trades

It can’t be ignored that men and women can be quite different when it comes to physical build. This is for biological reasons which we won’t go into, but why is it relevant when it comes to trade work? 

The physical demands of certain trades can seem like an obstacle if you’re a female. We think it all boils down to each individual – male or female – understanding their own physical limitations and choosing a path which takes them into account. 

It’s about each individual deciding what they are best suited to. When it comes down to female-specific things like pregnancy, you should always follow the guidelines of a medical professional as well as your own instincts when it comes to the work you take on.

Ultimately, when it comes to your job, only you can know what you’re capable of doing – whether you’re male or female.


How to enter the trades as a female


So, we’ve established that it’s a great idea for a woman to pursue a career as a skilled tradesperson. But is it easier said than done?

Luckily, training and qualifying as a tradeswoman in the UK isn’t as difficult as you might think. Whereas once you might have studied for years at trade school or relied on a family member, family friend or local gaffer to take you under their wing as an apprentice, this is no longer a necessary route. 

Now, you’ll find training centres and colleges across the UK offering a range of short courses designed to give you the required skills to get you started in a career in the trades. These courses are flexible and designed to fit around different needs – for example you could choose between an intensive full-time course, or something more part time to fit around existing work or study commitments. 

You shouldn’t come up against any discrimination when it comes to getting access to trade training programmes. It’s worth remembering that gender-based discrimination is against the law here in the UK, and institutions are well aware of this. So, be prepared to advocate for yourself and don’t let fear hold you back.

Having said that, some colleges offer special courses and female-friendly apprenticeships specifically designed for women entering the trades which you might prefer if you’re not fully comfortable with entering a majority male class. These courses have often been developed in partnership with organisations like the Women’s Trade Network and are designed for widening women’s participation in trade careers, empowering women in the trades and diversifying the trade sector as a whole. 

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