businesswoman instead of technician women often choose lower paid training jobs

businesswoman instead of technician women often choose lower paid training jobs

The Gender Divide in Vocational Education and its Consequences

CARROLLTON, Ga. – At a technological university located an hour away from Atlanta, Kimberly Hinely is seen wielding a soldering iron and wearing a face shield as she melts metal and joins it together.

As the only female in an evening welding program, the 44-year-old former tattoo artist says that she feels “one of the guys.”

She explains, “I’ve always gotten along better with men. I can’t handle the drama that comes with working with women. I’m a real smartass.”

Upon completion of the certificate program at West Georgia Technical University next year, Hinely will be trained in a field that pays $40,000 annually, which will help support her four children ranging from 7 to 25 years old.

While U.S. universities and trade schools awarded nearly a million certificates in the last school year, with almost 60 percent of them going to women, only 6 percent of those in welding, which is the most popular program among men, were awarded to women.

So, why is there such a significant gender disparity among students? It turns out, while men dominate programs like welding, women are more likely to pursue cosmetology or nursing programs, which pay significantly less according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The lack of women being trained for well-paying jobs, including trades like welding, is not only hurting women themselves, but it is also negatively impacting the economy. The shortage of skilled workers in fields such as IT and advanced manufacturing is putting businesses in a tough spot.

Middle-skill jobs, which require more than a high-school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree, make up 53 percent of the U.S. labor market. However, only 43 percent of workers are trained to the middle-skill level, according to the National Skills Coalition’s 2015 data.

Encouraging more women to enroll in high-paying certification programs can help lift families into the middle class and address the impending labor shortage caused by retiring baby boomers. Unfortunately, not enough is being done to change the current enrollment patterns.

“There is an obvious solution that would benefit both employers and the economy,” says Barbara Gault, the executive director of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

While women make up 55 percent of middle-skill workers, they account for 83 percent of those in jobs paying less than $30,000 annually, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Additionally, the median wage for women with a certificate is $27,864, compared to $44,191 for men, as per the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

This gender wage gap is primarily due to occupational segregation. Women tend to concentrate in low-paying fields like cosmetology and childcare, while men dominate more lucrative careers such as welding and auto repair.

Before the passage of Title IX in 1972, which aimed to achieve gender equity in education, there were hardly any women in vocational programs leading to male-dominated careers. While progress has been made, certificate programs still tend to be heavily skewed toward one gender. For example, 94 percent of welding certificates were awarded to men in the last academic year, while 95 percent of cosmetology certificates went to women, based on data provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Title IX made it illegal for institutions to steer students into specific fields based on their gender and required them to ensure that disproportionate enrollment was not a result of discrimination. However, efforts to promote careers in high-paying fields traditionally dominated by men, such as welding, have not been as widespread as those aimed at encouraging girls to pursue STEM degrees.

The lack of resources, career counseling that reinforces gender stereotypes, fear of workplace harassment, and societal norms all contribute to the gender divide in certificate programs.

According to Mary Alice McCarthy, the director of the Center on Education and Skills at the New America Foundation, “Even today, men are more attuned to wage signals than women. It goes deep into our understanding of our roles as caregivers or providers.”

Efforts are being made to bridge this gap and attract more women to vocational programs that can lead to well-paying jobs. Open houses and recruitment events are being organized to dispel the notion that certain trades are only suited for one gender. However, changing deep-rooted perceptions and socialization patterns can be challenging.

Despite the obstacles, there are women who break through gender stereotypes and pursue careers that have traditionally been dominated by men. For instance, women like Channa Cassell, whose father, uncle, and grandfather are welders, are entering the welding field. Cassell is one of the three women in her morning welding class.

Parents, too, play a role in discouraging their children from entering non-traditional fields. Monica Pfarr, the executive director of the American Welding Society Foundation, explains that welding is often seen as “dark, dirty, and dangerous.” To challenge this perception, the foundation has taken steps like showcasing the well-paying and technical aspects of welding through a traveling exhibition.

In order to meet the demand for skilled workers, Carroll County, where West Georgia Technical College is located, organized an open house specifically targeting women interested in trade careers. Donna Armstrong-Lackey, the senior vice president of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, emphasizes the need to eliminate the fear that women are not qualified or lack the strength required for male-dominated jobs.

However, changing societal attitudes takes time. When Armstrong-Lackey asked a petite girl if she was considering a career in welding, the girl quickly responded, “I’m too little.” Armstrong-Lackey countered by sharing that her daughter, who is the same size, is pursuing a welding certificate, urging her not to give up based on preconceived notions.

Ultimately, it’s important to create a more inclusive environment in vocational education that encourages both men and women to pursue the careers they are passionate about. As women like Hinely and Cassell pave the way, it’s crucial to break gender barriers and promote equal opportunities for all.