Women are being branded an untapped resource in filling the national trades shortage, as a new company seeks to get women into the construction industry.

Women make up only 2 per cent of all building trades workers, according to Statistics New Zealand, but the country is estimated to need 64,000 new building and construction jobs alone by 2020.

Christina Rogstad of start-up Destination Trades says women could be the solution.

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"Fifty per cent of the population is not being really seriously considered for those jobs," she said.

"Bringing people in from overseas only adds to our infrastructure problems so we need to be looking to women."

It often "doesn't occur" to companies to think about women to fill those gaps, she said. But equally, women still rarely choose to go into construction jobs, and schools often direct girls into "female trades", such as hairdressing, floristry or early childhood care.

"We need to build role models and have young and older women looking and seeing that women are in these trades," Rogstad said.

"Because it's a really good living, you can make good money, you can potentially go into your own business, you can take time out to have children."

Destination Trades aims to get more women trained and in apprenticeships or jobs in the construction industry.

The company is launching a pilot programme, with 20 women of all ages, to take them through a 32-week carpentry training course before setting them up with apprenticeships.

Five information sessions will be held at Kelston Girls' College, which is helping facilitate and promote the initiative, starting tomorrow.

Women still rarely choose to go into construction jobs, and schools often direct girls into 'female trades', such as hairdressing, floristry or early childhood care. Photo / Bloomberg
Women still rarely choose to go into construction jobs, and schools often direct girls into 'female trades', such as hairdressing, floristry or early childhood care. Photo / Bloomberg

There's already been a lot of interest, Rogstad said, and feedback from companies had been positive.

The company aims to emulate a Canadian model - Women Building Futures - which has been operating for 13 years and had a lot of success, particularly among First Nations women.

"The change in these women's lives is so inspiring," Rogstad said, quoting figures from the programme including how the women's incomes had tripled, levels of home ownership increased, debt went down - "really life-changing stuff".

"The employers, once they got used to the idea of women coming in, found that they were twice as safe and twice as productive," she said.

"Women are easier on equipment, [employers] find if they've got them driving heavy equipment and trucks their fuel consumption goes down, [women] are much safer because they follow procedures, and they take the testosterone out of the air, if you will, and it calms the workplace down. So it's a winner for employers."

It was also a winner for Government, she said, as many of the Canadian programme's women were previously unemployed, and "went from getting subsidies to paying taxes".

Rogstad said Destination Trades won't specifically target ethnic minorities, or those on benefits, but said: "If we can start to apply that to some of our difficult areas, we could be onto a winner."

Government initiatives working - Minister

Minister for Women and Associate Minister of Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Louise Upston said the Government had a range of initiatives to attract more women into trades.

These included the Engineering to Employment campaign, targets for female participants in the Maori and Pacific Trades Training (MPTT) programmes, sponsoring the "Got a Trade, Got it Made" week in August, and the inaugural Women in Trades conference.

A Ministry for Women-led project following the Canterbury earthquakes in 2011 saw the number of women employed in the local construction industry quadruple from 2100 to 8600, she said.

Minister for Women and Associate Minister of Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Louise Upston. Photo / file
Minister for Women and Associate Minister of Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Louise Upston. Photo / file

"These women now have a lifelong career in the trades which will set them up for work well beyond the Canterbury rebuild."

The Government had also focused on getting more people into STEM - science, technology, engineering and maths - subjects, she said, which had seen the number of women civil engineering graduates increase 82 per cent from 2008 to 2015.

"While Government is pushing to encourage women into trades careers, it's also up to educators, businesses and parents to ensure females are not only aware of the opportunities that working in a trade can offer, but to make sure that opportunities are available irrespective of gender," Upton said.

"The Government recently announced a new target of 50,000 apprentices at one time, up from the current 42,000. To reach this number we will be encouraging people of all both genders and all ethnicities to consider the trades as a career.

"Traditionally trades careers have been aimed at men, but employers now realise that women bring a different set of abilities that helps to broaden a company's overall set of skills."

The first information session will be held at Kelston Girls' College tomorrow at 10am. For more information click here.

By the numbers:
Number of new people needed by 2020
Automotive: 11,200
Building and Construction: 64,000
Civil: 19,600
Mechanical Engineering: 5400
Plumbing, Gasfitting and Drainlaying: 7800
Roofing and Scaffolding: 6800
(Source: GotATrade)

Te Mihikura Pene described the work as a good challenge, where she gets to be hands-on and learn something new every day.
Te Mihikura Pene described the work as a good challenge, where she gets to be hands-on and learn something new every day.

Teaching study ditched for career as electrician

"No-one told me that something like this was an option for me," says apprentice electrician Te Mihikura Pene.

"It was more like teachers, doctors, nurses, not, 'you can be in construction', 'you can be an electrician', 'you can be a plumber'."

The 20-year-old from Titirangi is five months into an apprenticeship with Caldwell & Levesque Electrical and due to start an electrical course at Unitec soon.

She dropped out of an University of Auckland primary teaching course, after helping her then-boyfriend's family renovate a house.

"I helped them renovate it and I was more interested in doing that type of stuff than I was going to uni and doing primary teaching."

Pene says she enjoys the electrical work, and describes it as a good challenge, where she gets to be hands-on, learn something new every day, and work as part of a team.

She would "definitely" recommend a building trade to other women, she said.

"I would let them know that it's not just for males, that women can do it too and I'm an example of that," she said.

Pene is also part of a mentor programme with Hawkins Construction.

Nancy McConnell, Hawkins general manager of corporate affairs, said the company was working to encourage and mentor women into trades jobs.

"Construction's been seen as a tough industry, a dirty industry, whereas the key thing is it's actually about team," she said.

"What we've observed, and I know this is anecdotal, but I've spoken to lots of our project managers, and they all say what a difference having women on site makes in terms of improving behaviours and just what they bring to a construction environment."