Finding good employees is every plumbing business owner’s biggest challenge.
The industry may be in high demand, but with a severe shortage of skilled tradespeople, could it be that you’ve been limiting yourself ‘till now?
I’m sure this is not the first time you’ve heard someone say that it’s important to hire women. Considering the market nowadays, you’ve probably thought of it yourself, if not already tried it.
However, if you’re reading this, it may be that something didn’t go quite according to plan.
Hiring and retaining a female plumber should be no different than any other employee, but there are a few extra things to take into consideration when hiring women plumbers.
Let’s break them down:
- The numbers: how many female plumbers are there in the UK?
- Why is becoming a female plumber so difficult?
- Why are female plumbers good for my business?
- Where to find qualified female heating engineers?
- What are some challenges of hiring and retaining female plumbers for employers?
1. How many female plumbers are there in the UK?
There are approximately 12,000—15,000 female plumbers in the UK, or around 1% of the total number, which sits somewhere between 120,000—150,000. If you put all the skilled trades together, the numbers don’t seem to go much further than 33,000, and even that number is after what Construction Magazine has called a “steep rise in interest in trades from women”.
Now, to really put things into perspective, the UK has a population of over 66 million. Not only is there a shortage of plumbers in general, but the number of female plumbers is even smaller in the grand scheme of things.
Looking at it now, it’s no wonder your Indeed job ad didn’t get that many applications from women.
All in all, the skilled trades offer a career path that many would be right to envy: high wages, no student loans, flexible work/life balance, not being chained to a desk all day, etc. And still, very few women apply for training.
This begs the question:
2. Why is becoming a female plumber so difficult?
If this is such a great career path, why aren’t more women applying to become plumbers, electricians, and other skilled tradespeople?
Part of the answer to these questions is the same as the one given when asking “Why aren’t more people in general choosing apprenticeships?”. Some of it has to do with preconceived notions about blue-collar jobs. The myths, which we’ve listed below, usually go double for women interested in trades, who could be deterred by the following:
“There is little job security in the skilled trades”.
A simple Google search will prove otherwise. There has been a demonstrable shortage of plumbers and other tradespeople for years. It’s not for nothing that you’ll hear how “there’s no such thing as an unemployed plumber”.
“There are few ways to build a long-term career”.
Advancing as a plumber is a pretty straightforward path. You earn your qualifications by demonstrating your technical expertise.
You can do this on the job whilst also gaining expertise by simply working to gain more years of experience.
Compared to white-collar jobs, where career advancements are often based on corporate politics and personal decisions, women actually stand a better chance of playing on an even field in the skilled trades.
“Plumbing is too physically demanding for a woman”.
This is not exactly a myth; a trade will always be more physically demanding than an office job. Plumbers do have to manage parts and equipment, as well as move around constantly throughout the day, so a certain level of physical fitness will be required.
At the same time, it’s rarely highlighted how plumbers will sometimes need to be flexible or small enough to squeeze into tight spaces - something where women typically have more of an advantage.
So, instead of focusing only on how much they need to lift— which, according to safety regulations, is no more than 50 lbs or 23kg—you can always highlight other essential activities plumbers will be required to do.
To put it into perspective, the average untrained woman will be able to lift at least half of her body weight, so as long as a female plumber weighs more than 100 lbs/46kg, it shouldn’t be a problem.
“Plumbing is too technical for a woman”.
This is a culturally ingrained perspective that has plagued the trades, as well as STEM fields, and other technical career paths. It goes without saying that biology has nothing to do with being good at maths, but if that’s your concern, rest assured: being a plumber requires only basic knowledge, which you can find here.
To take an example from Canada, our team had a chat with Shannon Tymosko (aka Lady Voltz) an electrician who also advocates for women in trades.
In conversation, she discussed how, given the opportunity, women can easily thrive in the plumbing profession while shaping the industry into a more compassionate one that’s ultimately being enriched by more diverse relationships.
“Culturally, women can give so much to a workforce [...] they tend to be more nurturing and can change the energy.”
That diversity is something to be embraced and welcomed!
👀 ➡️ Watch the full interview with Shannon in "Let's Talk"!
“Plumbing is a dirty job”.
Certainly not a myth: plumbing can be messy. This is a fact of the job and it’s up to each individual—male or female—to decide whether they’re too squeamish to be a plumber, but keep in mind no one typically calls jobs like housekeeping or nursing “dirty” jobs.
These are only a few of the obstacles women find themselves facing and a responsible business owner should take them into account when trying to hire any plumber, as well as female plumbers, too.
However, you might be tempted to wonder if it’s even worth the effort and find yourself asking...
3. Why are female plumbers good for my business?
They might not admit it, but it’s often the case that for hiring managers and owners of plumbing businesses, they fear that hiring a female plumber might cause disruptions in the workplace, especially in a male-dominated workplace.
Changing the dynamic of any team is going to be a challenge, but considering the positives that can come out of it should definitely motivate you to give it a try.
For instance, a study by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) found that having a higher percentage of women in the workplace leads to:
- Increased job satisfaction
- A more motivated workforce
- Employees find meaning in their work
- Lower chances of burnout
“Reasons cited include feeling safer with a woman (37%), feeling like they wouldn’t be ripped off by a female (12%), trusting advice from a woman more than a man (10%) and the likelihood that a woman wouldn’t patronise them (10%).”
Hattie Hasan, a plumber herself and trades activist—not to mention the founder of the Register for Tradeswomen (and proud Commusoft user, too!)—has some incredible experiences to share.
She found it especially gratifying to carry work for victims of domestic abuse, offering support from qualified professionals who can assist with trade work for people who have or are experiencing precarious domestic situations.
In these cases, having a male worker in the house might cause customers great anxiety, or even place them in danger.
Being the kind of company that is able to deal with these customers compassionately isn’t just a sound business deal, it’s simply the right thing to do.
All in all, these are difficult benefits to measure but they provide mostly long-term gains. If simply hiring a few female plumbers can get you even that little bit closer to one of them, then it’s definitely worth making the investment.
4. Where to find qualified female heating engineers?
If you’re determined to hire more female plumbers, knowing how and where to advertise in order to attract them is key. As mentioned above, there’s a shortage of skilled tradespeople and women only make up a small percentage of this already small number so it’s worth being proactive.
The best way to help the industry, in general, is to work with apprenticeships programs and contact your local Further Education College. Also, consider sponsoring the various organisations that actively strive to get more girls and women into the trades, such as WaterSafe’s Get Girls Plumbing campaign, or the Registry for Tradeswomen’s free courses for victims of domestic abuse.
This being said, it’s completely understandable if your plumbing business isn’t yet in a position to commit to these financial efforts. You can also try to hire female plumbers by:
- Advertising on forums and job boards dedicated to promoting trades amongst women
- Keeping your job descriptions gender-neutral by avoiding terms like a tradesman, rockstar, heavy-duty engineer, and other masculine-sounding phrases
- Staying committed to offering a chance to women who apply
5. What are some challenges of hiring and retaining female plumbers for employers?
The conversation around hiring tradeswomen is generally focused on the positive aspects and benefits. But this is not enough for many business owners and hiring managers, and for good reason: glossing over the challenges won’t benefit anyone. In fact, it might actually hinder the very women you’re trying to hire if you don’t take into account the following responsibilities you’ll gain:
- Acquiring uniforms in appropriate sizes
- Ensuring safety equipment fits female plumbers
- Providing a changing room and a washing room that’s separate from the men’s
This being said, I’m sure you’d agree the benefits highlighted above far outweigh these costs, but it’s good to keep them in mind.
As plumbing companies find themselves with more and more work on their plate and fewer qualified people to do it, it’s important to be proactive and make the effort to promote the trades to both women and men.
The fact of the matter is that getting more women into plumbing is a great untapped resource. Of course, realistically, they will encounter more challenges than the average man when trying to make their way into the industry.
However, the benefits are clear: from increased workplace satisfaction to a lower chance of burnout, to happier customers; female plumbers contribute to it all. Sound good?
The good news is that you can start being the change you want to see in the plumbing industry, today!
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