Despite COVID-19, the New Zealand construction industry is booming and will continue to experience high growth. At a time when several large government projects have been announced, New Zealand needs skilled construction workers and tradies, but little attempt has been made to recruit women into the industry until recently. However, industry groups such as the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO), and Women in Trades are trying hard to increase the number of women in construction and trades.

NZ Construction Industry

New Zealand has a thriving construction industry that employs over 184 million people and contributed more than $15 million to the New Zealand economy in 2019.  

There is very high demand for construction works, both from housing shortages in Auckland and Wellington and large projects, such as:

However, the industry has suffered from COVID-19, with Fletcher Building, one of NZ’s largest construction companies, letting go 1,000 employees and making a $55 million loss in April.

The government plans to work with the construction industry to deal with issues such as the collapse of Fletcher Building and other companies, concerns about quality of new builds and the shortage of skilled workers. Several initiatives have been announced, such as:

Unfortunately, this spending and growth won’t benefit women as much as it should because of the low participation of women in the construction industry.

Women in Construction in New Zealand

Currently, only 3% of construction employees in New Zealand are women. (The 12% in trades is little better). In New Zealand, as elsewhere, women are taught that, if they want to go into a trade, they should go into something feminine like beauty or hairdressing.

This harmful stereotype leads to discrimination within the industry as well as stopping women from going into trades, as Erica Cummings, BCITO’s advocate for women, points out:

"Research shows us that some employers were advertising by word of mouth and women aren't getting to hear about those opportunities. The other part is that women just don't know that they could work in those areas - [including] the range of trades."

The same research, commissioned by groups in the trades sector, found that only 17% of male employers would hire women tradies.

This attitude needs to change—especially when the massive grant for new apprenticeships makes now the ideal time to increase the number of women in construction in New Zealand. Moreover, construction, which is male-dominated, is likely to be a good source of jobs post-COVID (32,000 in the next few years in Auckland alone). As women make up 90% of New Zealanders let go during the pandemic, (hard-hit industries such as hospitality are female-dominated), they desperately need to get some of these new construction jobs.

It’s not just job security: women who do an apprenticeship in New Zealand earn $145,000 more by the age of 30 than their university educated counterparts. Fortunately, there are plenty of groups inside the industry who are trying to increase female participation in construction.

Construction and Trade Organisations Advocating for Women

Vital to increasing recruitment of women in construction and trades are organisations who provide recruitment events and information to women considering a career in the trades. The interest in recruiting women to trades is high, and there are many organisations who are committed to increasing the number of women in trades and construction in New Zealand, such as:

New Zealand women are interested in going into construction and trades when they know that this is an option for them. Women who are already in trades cite having family in trades, wanting to do something different and avoiding student loans as reasons for taking this career path. Hopefully, with current effort from the New Zealand construction industry to increase diversity, we will see more women looking at construction and the trades as a viable career option, something the New Zealand construction industry desperately needs.