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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Tracewell

Women in the Trades — High Salaries Without the Stereotypes

Think back, ladies. As a little girl, maybe you didn’t just play with dolls, but you also built dollhouses and made clothes and created furniture for them to enjoy. Or perhaps your favorite activities involved block towers, sandcastles, and arts & crafts. A skilled trade could be in your future.

That's a man's job. You wouldn't be interested. It’s for people who can’t hack college. You're not strong enough. These might be phrases a young woman has heard as she explores a career in the skilled trades. If this sounds familiar, read on, because we hope to bust some stereotypes in our post today, and show you how many lucrative, interesting, rewarding, and attainable careers there are for women who want to work in the professional/skilled trade industry! Perhaps you're leaning toward something different than the four-year college route, love hands-on work, and want to jump into a well-paying job — we have some advice for you.

What’s a skilled trade, anyway?

Skilled trades are typically associated with the construction or manufacturing sectors. Examples include carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and machinists, each of which masters a different aspect of the construction or manufacturing process. They all rely on a set of competencies learned over time, not just routine labor. For entry into a trade, students commonly need some post-high school training or licensure, but not a bachelor’s degree.

Myth: The skilled trades are for people who lack academic skills

There’s a long-held belief that blue-collar work is beneath white-collar work, that the more education you have, the smarter you are and the better paying job you’ll have. Even though there was a time in American history when the skilled craftsman was well respected, that view declined in the decades after WWII. Teachers and counselors began pointing more of the stronger academic students toward college, and the low-performing students toward tech or vocational school. Gradually, learning a trade became synonymous with a second-rate career track for those who aren’t cut out for college.

However, you need some serious smarts in the trades for trimming, cutting, measuring, problem-solving! You’d better know simple math along with some geometry and trigonometry. You will absolutely be creatively and intellectually challenged in a skilled trades job, whether it’s an electrician who must excel at analyzing and implementing technical drawings, or a machinist who should possess design skills along with learning to use machines to produce precision metal parts.

Myth: The skilled trades are for men

Historically, women have made up just one to two percent of skilled trades workers. But times are changing! Between 2017 and 2018, the number of women working in construction trades increased by 17.6 percent. While there is still a huge gender gap, with women making up only 3.4% of workers in the construction trades, the rates are increasing, along with the pay. A new initiative backed by the home improvement store Lowe’s, called Generation T, is promoting the trades for all, especially for women, and building a unique platform to support workers, apprenticeships, and job opportunities. One woman involved in the program had this to say:

Expanding the visibility of women who are already in the industry is a huge part of getting more women in trades. In high school, I had never met a woman who worked in construction and I didn’t know it was something I could do. I was worried about my safety and my ability to be feminine, and I’ve realized that it’s completely unfounded.

Myth: The skilled trades are not fulfilling, consistent, or well-paying work

We will mention the most obvious thing first: skilled trades workers can earn a darn good living. The demand for most skilled trades is getting stronger and stronger, and with baby boomers retiring, there’s a huge gap between industry growth and qualified labor. In addition, trades often pay well for the specialized skills set they require.

Skilled trade careers provide:

  • Higher wage levels than many fields women traditionally go into

  • Interaction with consumers, many of them women

  • Yes, there is sometimes heavy work, but in many skilled trades this is a small part of the experience

  • Steady careers – with work throughout the year

  • Although some stereotypes still exist, the trades industry has become more women-friendly

Here are some real-time numbers on five in-demand and high-paying trades jobs:


National average salary: $31.22 per hour

Primary duties: Boilermakers assemble and install boilers, tanks and vats that contain liquids or gases, such as oil and other various chemicals. They may also operate machines, such as robotic welders. Boilermakers’ work is physically demanding, and they may work outside in a variety of weather conditions.

HVAC technician

National average salary: $23.20 per hour

Primary duties: HVAC technicians install, repair and maintain heating, ventilation, refrigeration and air-conditioning systems. Technicians can perform all of these services or specialize in a type of service (e.g. installation) and type of system (e.g. heating and air-conditioning). HVAC technicians can perform repairs on larger industrial units and smaller residential units.

HVAC technicians can make a positive impact on the environment by installing equipment that saves both energy and their clients’ money. Their services improve the air quality and thermal comfort of their clients’ homes.

Home inspector

National average salary: $50,525 per year

Primary duties: Home inspectors do a thorough inspection of the exterior and interior of a newly built or previously owned home to make sure it is safe to live in. They train to become familiar with heating, plumbing, electrical and structural systems in the home. They also need to be familiar with different construction methods and know the strengths and weaknesses of different types of homes. Home inspectors need to be physically fit to climb ladders and move through crawlspace areas.

Construction manager

National average salary: $75,386 per year

Primary duties: Construction managers work with architects and engineers on residential, commercial or federal construction projects. The main responsibility of the construction manager is to assess what building materials will be necessary to complete a project and then secure the needed materials.

Construction managers need to use analytical and problem-solving skills to evaluate blueprints and provide a time and cost estimate for project completion. They need to have exemplary leadership skills to head their team of construction workers and have excellent customer service skills to form strong relationships with clients.

Landscape designer

National average salary: $53,650

Primary duties: Landscape designers work on outdoor residential or garden design projects. Their goal is to select plants and other features that suit the environment and beautify the outdoor space. Their designs change depending on the environment and may include vegetation, water features, pathways or sculptures. For example, landscape designers working in drier climates may use native plants, pebbles and rocks, while designers working in temperate climates may primarily use trees, shrubs and other plants.

Oregon Tradeswomen’s Career Fair

This weekend was supposed to be the Oregon Tradeswomen’s annual Career Fair, but it’s been canceled due to COVID-19 — rescheduled for September 15, 2020! This is a hands-on, trades-related Career Event highlighting the lucrative careers in the construction trades. While focused on presenting these career options to girls, Oregon Tradeswomen’s Career Fair is open to everyone! Most workshops are managed by tradeswomen, highlighting the power of a truly diverse workforce.

Women deserve and can attain economic self-sufficiency through pursuing careers in the building, mechanical, electrical, and utility trades while helping and encouraging the trades industry build up a diverse workforce.


A Hands-on Career Fair Introducing Debt-Free Career Education for High-paying, High-demand Careers in the Skilled Trades.


Friday, September 25 – School Day

8:30 am – 3:00 pm

For students attending with their schools


NECA/IBEW Electrical Training Center

16021 NE Airport Way

Portland OR 97230

More details & sign-up to come later.

Girls, you can learn and excel in a career in the trades! Even if you're unable to attend the fall Oregon Tradeswomen's Career Fair, feel free to get in touch with the organization and they will connect you with the right resources.

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