Female trade certificate holders, much like those holding post-secondary credentials, earn persistently less than their male counterparts. This is not only true in male-dominated trades, but in female-dominated ones as well. The gap in earnings does not improve over time – in fact, it increases. Women also continue to represent only a very small proportion of skilled trades workers and they are mostly in low-paying trades. However, some policy initiatives in a national strategy could be put in place to both address the gender earnings gap as well as to make the skilled trades in general – and high-paying trades specifically – a more suitable option for a growing number of women, particularly as we attempt to address a post-pandemic economy.

It is important to note that in our analysis our comparisons are based on average annual earnings – the total of all employment income sources through the year – and not salaries or wages – the rate of pay. This means that our study – a joint research project between the Labour Market Information Council and the Education Policy Research Initiative – is not an assessment of equal pay for equal work. For instance, we are unable to control for differences in hours and weeks worked including childcaring and other family responsibilities, which often fall to women.

Our findings show that women with trade certificates earn on average less than half (46 per cent) of what men earn eight years after receiving their certification. This discrepancy is largely due to women’s over-representation in low-paying trades. In fact, more than 80 per cent of women in trades are certified as hairstylists, cooks and bakers, where they earn on average between $27,000 and $41,000 eight years after certification, while their male counterparts earn between $36,000 and $51,000.

The core problem is representation. Overall, women represent fewer than 10 per cent of certified journeypersons in Canada, and even fewer in the highest-earning trades. For example, women certified in electrical trades account for less than two per cent of journeypersons and earn on average $72,500 eight years following certification. This is less than men certified in the same trades ($85,100), although the difference (15 per cent) is much smaller than the gap in low-earning trades (which is between 20 to 25 per cent). Simply put, we need to first focus on creating opportunities for women to learn about the skilled trades in general and specifically about the high-earning, male-dominated ones.

It is crucial to reduce the barriers for women entering high-paying trades. The barriers are not hidden. First, there is a lack of awareness. We need to ensure women have the right information at the right time to make decisions on their career path. Providing more awareness and information about apprenticeship programs and skilled trade careers to high school graduates is one important step in this regard. Female students specifically need to be encouraged to take courses that increase their skills in, and knowledge of, the trades. This can be done by providing mentorship programs and career services to high school students. Unfortunately, too many students are not aware of possible education and employment options. Friends, family, and social media are their most common sources of labour market information, and female students assign more importance to these sources of information than male students do. In fact, the lack of career guidance pushes students toward using these most accessible sources, which might not necessarily provide timely and reliable information.

Second, the existing discrimination and perceptions of masculine identity of the trades – for example, that metal work is too “tough” for women – can discourage women from entering those trades – even if they have enough information and insights about them. Workplace policies in male-dominated trades could help encourage more women to consider those trades.

Another important area of policy focus should be reducing gender earnings gaps in workplaces. This is another discouraging fact for women. It exists and increases over time whether a skilled trade is female-dominated, like hairstyling, or male-dominated, like the electrical trades. As figure 1 indicates, women earn less than men in the first year after certification, and this earnings gap increases over time even in female-dominated trades.

Women with hairstylist certificates earn $23,300, on average, in the first year after certification, which is 87 per cent of what their male counterparts earn ($26,900). Eight years after certification, this gender earnings gap grows as women earn 76 per cent of what men do ($27,200 versus $35,900). Conversely, in electrical trades (for example, construction and industrial electricians), where men represent close to 98 per cent of workers, women earn on average $65,200 in their first year after certification, which is 88 per cent of what men earn ($74,400). Eight years out, however, the earnings gap is 85 per cent with women earning $72,500 and men earning $85,100. In fact, the magnitude of the gap and its growth over eight years is worse for hairstylists than for electrical trades.

Today, given the unprecedented impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on women’s employment, we need to ensure the recovery plans include and address pre-pandemic, structural issues such as the gender earnings gap, gender discrimination at work and the shortage of women in skilled trades.

The 2021 budget is already taking steps in that direction as employers will be eligible to receive up to $5,000 for all first-year apprenticeship opportunities to pay for upfront costs such as salaries and training. In addition, to boost diversity in the construction and manufacturing Red Seal trades, this incentive will be doubled to $10,000 for employers who hire those under-represented, including women. This is a first step in the right direction. However, Canada needs a collective and effective national strategy to welcome women entering and staying in skilled trades and to reduce the earnings gap.

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Behnoush Amery is a senior economist at the Labour Market Information Council. She conducts research on labour market outcomes of education and job-related training, specifically on the gender earnings gap.
Michael Dubois is the associate director of the Education Policy Research Initiative at the University of Ottawa, where he conducts research related to education, skills and the labour market.

You are welcome to republish this Policy Options article online or in print periodicals, under a Creative Commons/No Derivatives licence.

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