Meet Fiona McDonald


Why are so few women taking up careers in the trades?

Female participation in the trades has remained low over the past 25 years, closing women off to the many opportunities that a career in the trades offers. 

Trades Women Australia (TWA) is going to change that, with important research into the real reasons fewer women are choosing trades and consultancy with industry leaders to help them secure and retain more female talent.

We recently spoke to Fiona McDonald, former light-vehicle apprentice and executive director at Trades Women Australia, to find out why women aren’t entering trades, how we can change that, and how these changes will benefit everyone in the industry.

How Fiona found her way in trades

Fiona got her start in the trades as a light-vehicle apprentice. Early on, Fiona recognised a lack of support, promotion and opportunities that were available to her. She decided to do something about it.

In a recent article with the Geelong Advertiser, Fiona spoke of the challenges she faced, even when she was trying to find an apprenticeship.

“A lot of workshops I went to would just laugh at me, they had the excuse they didn’t have female toilets and customers wouldn’t like having me there,” she said.

“One employer said to me we don’t have security cameras in our shop so I can’t guarantee your safety.”

When Fiona finally got her lucky break, a two-week trial as an apprentice, it was support from a fellow female apprentice which encouraged her to stick with it. 

As an apprentice, Fiona started a networking group where women in the industry could support one another. She worked with partners and developed strategies to help increase women’s participation in the trades. 

“Helping other women in trades makes me feel amazing,” she says. “I know what it’s like because I’ve been there and I’ve done that before.”

This experience and passion for helping other women, combined with her love of the trades, eventually led Fiona to found the Trades Women Australia Foundation in 2013.

How to get more women involved in trades

“Trades Women Australia Foundation supports women all around Australia who are trying to get into the industry and seeking support from the issues they’re experiencing in workplaces,” Fiona says.

TWA has the largest network of tradeswomen across Australia. Through research, consulting and events, TWA is working with women and industry to remove the barriers that keep women from getting started in trades.

Fiona says the foundation, “exists to support girls and women into trades, and we operate under a number of different activity types such as encouragement, retention, and recruitment.”

Part of their strategy involves encouraging young women and girls to think of a trade as an option that’s available to them. 

“Some of our initiatives for 2020 and goals are to support more women into the trade industry so we’re going out to schools, meeting with different training organisations, and encouraging more women to consider a pathway into trades.”

Fiona says that they are already starting to see these initiatives pay off.

“A great example of some ways that we’ve helped before is getting young women into apprenticeships who’ve been searching for a long time.”

Like when Fiona was looking for an apprenticeship, support from others in the industry is crucial for increasing participation of women in the trades.

“We often have women come to us who’ve been trying to get into the industry for more than six months so it’s great to see them finally successful,” she says.

“They are getting into schools in the second half of the year, running great networking events for opportunities for women to come together and working with employers to celebrate women in trades who have been successful.”

This is not just to the advantage of women either, with research from TWA that has shown how industry and the greater Australian economy can reap massive benefits from a more inclusive industry.

What’s in it for the industry?

“Trades Women Australia Foundation partnered with Builders Academy Australia because we have a similar vision: to encourage and support more women into the trade industry and boost the number of carpenters we have in Australia,” Fiona says.

This kind of industry partnership can be vital.

Over the past 25 years, the number of women who are undertaking apprenticeships and traineeships has barely risen above two per cent. This is not just bad news for women.

The national skills shortage means that there are 65 trades experiencing skills shortages, and almost all of them are male-dominated. But meeting these skills shortages with an extra six per cent of women could add up to $25 billion to the Australian economy

This means that Australia is currently missing out on a massive chunk of growth by not having women in trades.

TWA works to show how we can create better outcomes for women, businesses and the country.

That’s why Builders Academy Australia is proud to be partnered with TWA.

“Builders Academy Australia offers pathways into trade including construction management, and these are roles where we really want to see an increase in female participation,” Fiona says

She would love to see other employers and trainers to get on board and says, “employers and individuals who are interested in supporting women in trades should consider doing so by jumping online and registering with us.”

There is a long road ahead before women and men have equal footing in the trades. The times, however, are changing, and Fiona thinks that now is a great time for women to get involved in the industry.

“If you’re looking to build your future, get in contact with the team at Builders Academy. They are there to support you all the way.”

Are you inspired by Fiona’s story and want to find out how building and construction courses can get you started in a new career in Building and Construction? Call us at 1300 LEGEND (1300 534 363) or request a callback today.