“I’m the only one in the class”: Craft industry is looking for female offspring

“I’m the only one in the class”
Craft industry is looking for young females

“You’re going to get dirty!” Such formulations have long had their day – one might think. But in many professions, gender stereotypes are still widespread. In view of the enormous shortage of skilled workers, the trades sector wants to change that and has several ideas.

It is a male-dominated trade: the field of sanitary, heating and air-conditioning technology (SHK). According to the Central Association of German Crafts (ZDH), only a marginal proportion of trainees were female last year. Antonella Menrath notices that too. “I’m the only one in our class,” says the 24-year-old, who has been training as a plant mechanic in the SHK trade in Plankstadt near Heidelberg since 2021. In view of the tens of thousands of heat pumps to be installed, the industry will need every helping hand in the future.

According to current figures from the competence center for securing skilled workers (Kofa) at the Institute of German Economics (IW), there were an average of 16,787 vacancies for journeymen and 1952 vacancies for master craftsmen in the HVAC sector nationwide in 2022. However, eight out of ten of these positions could not be filled mathematically because there were no suitably qualified unemployed. Overall, the need for HVAC specialists has increased significantly in recent years – especially due to the climate policy goals. As a result, the shortage of skilled workers has also increased continuously. So there is enough room for women who choose these professions. But how can more young women be inspired for this craft?

Enormous skills shortage

Research shows that gender-typical occupations, i.e. occupations that are either predominantly performed by women or predominantly by men, are more often affected by the shortage of skilled workers, says Lydia Malin, a scientist at Kofa. This cannot necessarily be explained causally, because the causes of the deficiency are different. But it is also a fact that these professions are only considered by a numerically smaller group. According to the scientist, it would be desirable for everyone to be able to take up a job that suits their own skills and inclinations without being clichéd. More women are needed to show that you can also be happy in the craft: “We just need as many of them as possible.”

Because young women – and men – need role models. If a girl only ever sees men on a construction site, it never occurs to her that this is a job that suits her own gender. Many trades are exactly what many women want anyway: Women tend to like to work creatively and value customer contact. Both things that are also in demand in the trade. Likewise, stability and job security are things that women would prefer. “And I don’t think there is a safer job anywhere than in the trades,” says Malin.

For a good year now, Antonella Menrath has been showing on Instagram that the SHK trade is an industry in which women can also feel at home. She is not primarily concerned with the photos and videos, but above all with the exchange with others. Many wrote to her there by direct message and she has already been able to inspire women to follow the same path. She herself first studied to be a teacher and only decided to do the training after completing her bachelor’s degree.

From the point of view of Joachim Butz from the board of the Central Association for Sanitary Heating Air Conditioning (ZVSHK), the parents are often the “brake pad”. They often said: “You’re going to get dirty” or “It’s too heavy for you”. That is why it is important to take the parents with you. Butz can refute the argument that the job is too physically demanding for women: “Overall, the physical strain in our trade has decreased significantly in recent years.” Because today there are appropriate aids – for women and for men. In order to meet the increased need for skilled workers overall, the association is stepping up its recruitment of young talent. It is also important that young people do internships, since many – after they have had a taste of the job – actually decide to do the apprenticeship.

Toilets would be a start

The ZDH is of the opinion that with regard to the proportion of women in the HVAC sector “there is still a lot of room for improvement”: “In order to meet the increasing need for skilled workers, but also so that young women can benefit from the advantages of a skilled trade, here is urgently needed a rethink.” In order to achieve this, the association takes part in campaigns and initiatives.

Antonella Menrath also notices how much room there is for improvement. An example from her everyday life is going to the toilet at work. “You’re on a construction site all day. If you’re lucky, there’s also a dixi toilet.” Often, however, it is no longer particularly inviting after a short time. Then it would be easier for men, because they could also go into a section of forest. Women, on the other hand, are dependent on toilets. In the meantime, however, she has found a solution to the problem: “When I come to a construction site and I know I’m going to be there longer, I ask for my own toilet.”

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