Labor to spend $12m boosting number of female tradies in vocational education overhaul

Sarah Martin

A Labor government will commit $12m to boost the number of female tradies as part of an overhaul of Australia’s vocational education sector.

The shadow skills minister, Doug Cameron, said the commitment aimed to boost female representation in traditionally male-dominated occupations, where women remain a tiny fraction of the workforce.

Cameron said training organisations would be given funds to recruit women, who would then be linked to employers who wanted to make their “workshops more diverse and inclusive”.

“Women should have safe and inclusive opportunities to become fully qualified and well-paid tradespeople,” Cameron said. “Many trades are still male dominated, but that doesn’t need to continue to be the norm.”

The $12m will operate under the guidance of Labor’s apprenticeship advocate, who will be charged with closing the apprenticeship gender gap and expanding the uptake of quality apprenticeships and traineeships across the labour market.

The program will include funds for mentoring apprentices, peer support and working directly with employers to “overcome bias” and achieve more accepting and inclusive workplaces.

As little as 2% of workers in well-paid traditional trades including electrical, building, automotive and engineering are women.

The party points to a recent study of women in the automotive trades, which found that only half believed men and women were treated equally at work. One in four women reported direct sexual harassment and more than 40% had been subjected to offensive language or behaviour at work.

“Experienced group training organisations will provide direct assistance to employers and apprentices to help break down the barriers faced by women,” Cameron said. “Through this program Labor will support women who want to do a trade, lift their earning potential, improve the businesses they work in and make our society fairer.”

The party’s shadow minister for women and education, Tanya Plibersek, said the program would also offer practical assistance to ensure worksites were more female friendly.

“Women wanting to gain a trade in male dominated occupations face major barriers to finding quality trade apprenticeships,” Plibersek said.

“Things like ensuring worksites have appropriate bathroom facilities, inclusive communal staff areas and providing advice on how to appropriately interact at work are easy to address but are often some of the biggest barriers to women taking up a trade and feeling comfortable at work.”

The commitment forms part of the party’s post-budget pledge to spend $440m on skills and training, including $330m to deliver 150,000 apprenticeship subsidies in areas with skills shortages.

Bill Shorten has also committed Labor to spend $200m on Tafe campuses and promised to almost double the number of new apprenticeship offered by the Coalition in Tuesday’s budget.