As a builder, Amy Avison is outnumbered 50 to one.
And in the past, working in a male-dominated industry has had its downsides.
“I’ve definitely seen the rough side where you basically get treated like crap,” she said.
“Basically just complete sexism, people not willing to teach you, the impression from the get-go that you’re completely incapable and inferior to everyone else. You’ll never be strong enough or smart enough.
“You’ll never be a man, basically.”
That all changed when she started a new apprenticeship this year at an Auckland firm with a female manager.
“You can’t be what you haven’t seen,” she said. “Seeing other women in trades is really motivating — I’ve seen that it’s possible.”
After abandoning a career in nursing, and dabbling in a few trade jobs, the 27-year-old mother of one said she had found her true calling.
“I am 100 per cent committed now. This I what I want to do ‘til I retire. And I’m gonna be the boss.”
Avison is one of a growing number of women heading into construction jobs. About 30,000 women now work in the industry — double the number in 2003.
But women still fill only 17 per cent of construction jobs in New Zealand, and about 2 to 3 per cent of the “on the tools” roles.
The industry is now on a recruitment drive to bring in not only more women but also more Māori and Pacific workers.
Warwick Quinn, the chief executive of Building Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO), said the gender imbalance needed to be addressed if the sector was to reduce its huge skills shortage.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment estimates the sector is short of 30,000 workers.
BCITO forecasts 80,000 new and replacement jobs will open in the next five years.
Quinn said employers needed to broaden their hiring practices. Fewer than 5 per cent of companies took on women.
Women also needed to see the potential for a career in the trades, he said. “Girls don’t see themselves in construction. They don’t have role models. When they’re thinking about what they want to do at school it doesn’t cross their mind. We’re trying to challenge that.”
The BCITO is developing guidelines for employers which include everything on how to advertise for women employees to how to treat them at the worksite. It encourages companies to include women in their branding and publications, and to put “women can apply” in job ads.
The sector has been male-dominated for so long that there is also an awkwardness about how to work alongside women, Quinn said.
“People ask things like ‘Do you offer to help women lift something or is that derogatory?’ The answer is no — if she wants help she’ll ask for it just like a male would.”
The organisation has also produced a short documentary, My Boss: Legend, which celebrates bosses who have taken on women and highlights the high job satisfaction among women builders.
The Government released an action plan last month for addressing the skills shortage in construction.
It recognised the need to attract more women, Māori and Pacific workers but did not include any specific measures targeted at them.