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Yanaba's avatar

Tradespeople and contractors: how do I get an entry-level job in the trades as a young woman?

Asked by Yanaba (670 points ) October 20th, 2011

I have no background or training in these things but I’m good with my hands, a bit of an artist, a problem solver and fearless. I’m a hard worker and a perfectionist and I would be great at something like tiling, painting, mosaics, furniture reupholstering or wood detail work, in a residential setting or workshop. I would love to learn anything anyone will teach me, I’m technically educated enough to handle learning anything technical (assisting an electrician or a plumber, mechanics or welding for example) and I will be happy to be their little gopher for cheap or for free if necessary as long as I’m learning. But I have had no luck so far and I’m told that being a woman is the main problem.

I haven’t had the opportunity to use most tools, am in the midst of getting my driver’s license here, and can’t afford to go to college for this stuff at the moment because it is far away and I would still be paying foreigner fees for the next year or two. I have a great head for marketing and social media if it might help, and I thoroughly believe in listening to the customer and doing exactly what it takes to make them happy, because most contractors I’ve had (here in the UK) have done a terrible job. That means there is a major niche for competence and I am very willing to show anyone who takes a chance on me that their trust was well-placed.

What can I do to get hired by a tradesperson or contractor, being that I am a woman (!) and not trained? Thanks for any help!

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7 Answers

HungryGuy's avatar

How young? Many communities have special trade high schools you can attend instead of a conventional high school. In NY state, it’s called BOCES. It doesn’t cost extra, but your school day is a little longer.

ETpro's avatar

It might take time, but if you target what you want to apply for, study a bit online about the craft involved, and approach shop owners with exactly the story you laid out in that opening paragraph about your interests, your dedicatin and your desire to learn, you can probably find an apprenticeship somewhere. How far you take it past that is up to you. Best of luck hunting.

Yanaba's avatar

Oooh @njnyjobs, drool, thank you for that one!

@HungryGuy, I’m in my mid-twenties, but that’s exactly what I should have done. I had the instinct at the time but was told I didn’t know what was best. :p Go figure eh.

@ETpro, thank you. I hope you’re right…I will keep on trying.

CWOTUS's avatar

If you’ve seen the movie Gran Torino, that’s one of the best ways to get into the trades in an entry-level job without much prior education. Get someone who knows the boss (typically in a non-union outfit, although union shops will often hire “permit” workers who don’t join the union but still pay dues, which was my own entreĆ© into the Boilermakers one college summer). Residential and small commercial contractors (as shown in the movie) usually carry smaller crews and have a lot of leeway in hiring and firing decisions. If you really are a go-getter and can get someone to convince the boss that you’re worth the new-hire risk, then that can be all the leg up that you need.

If you intend to hire on as a carpenter somewhere, you should know that carpenters carry their own tools. Even union carpenters carry their own full kit of basic hand tools, only power tools, “stand” tools and special tools not suited to general carpentry are provided at the work site. So start accumulating good tools if this is your aim.

If you plan to get into any metal trades then it’s going to give you a huge leg up if you can take welding classes: heli-arc (TIG – Tungsten Inert Gas), MIG and “stick welding” (shielded metal arc) are the most important types to learn for most industrial applications, though brazing has its place in automotive and some other fields. You’ll pretty much have to learn that on your own, though, or take classes for it. No one is going to hire an untrained welder for on-the-job training and experience. In fact, to be hired as a welder most places demand that you take and pass a welder performance qualification test, and they’ll bust you out and lay you off the same day if your test fails. (At least, that’s how it is in the boiler business. I expect that structural steel, piping and non-boiler plumbing welder hires are handled in much the same way.)

You might also be able to sign up for union apprenticeship programs if you live in an area with a strong construction trades union presence. That’s certainly no guarantee of employment, but it can help you tremendously with the training, and give you some employment (from time to time) as well.

But this gets me to the final point: You have to make a decision about what kind of employment you want to pursue. Carpenter? (Rough / framing, or finishing?) Millwright? Plumber? Pipefitter / steamfitter? Boilermaker? Brick mason? Very few places hire jacks-of-all-trades (though it’s common enough to become that person as your skills and experience improve). You pretty much need to decide what it is that you want to do, and then work to acquire the skills of that trade.

snowberry's avatar

If you don’t have strong upper body strength, you might want to start building yourself up. Welding and some other trades often require superior strength in that part of the body. I’m sure you’ll do a great job.

Yanaba's avatar

Wow, thank you so much everyone for your input. Thank you @CWOTUS for the at-length response, how I will choose between all those without trying them I am not sure, but you are certainly right that it is necessary. Good idea @snowberry, though hopefully there are teams that will prioritize great care and manual dexterity over pipes, for now at least.

The basic way I’m trying to look at approaching tradespeople is to ask what I can bring to them in spite of my skills in the trade itself being non-existent. I think if I can understand their day-to-day reality well enough then I can tailor my approach so that we both win—I believe there are great people out there who would want to help if I can give them a reason why it’s smart for them to. If it works maybe I’ll write an article for the paper about this issue and how great the employer is—good press.

Thanks again all, I’ll keep you posted with what happens.

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