Encouraging Careers in the Trades

By Kayleen McCabe

For five seasons, DIY Network’s Rescue Renovation showcased Kayleen McCabe’s skills and passion for working with her hands. However, McCabe is much more than an acclaimed television host. She is a determined advocate of trade careers and education, as well as the NWFA’s apprenticeship program.

Through the McCabe Foundation, her work focuses on tightening the skills gap by encouraging young men, women, and veterans to consider careers in construction, advocating for women who want to succeed in traditionally male-dominated fields, and demonstrating to students that alternative paths to career success exist.

McCabe believes her passion can inspire future female contractors to see what opportunities are available to them after high school. “There is a great career for everyone out there, and there are multiple pathways to success. I grew up with the trades. For me, it was just a natural thing to do, and I never considered it to be an odd career. Looking back, though, what is frustrating is that I was never actively encouraged to do this career when I was growing up. I want to change that.”

Speaking about her natural inclination to seek a career in the trades, McCabe credits her father. While his passion and expertise were an inspiration to her, she says he was hesitant about it being the “right” career for his daughter.

PHYSICALITY CONCERNS
“I wanted to go to tech school because my dad was a welder. As much as he inspired me, I also saw him go through carpal tunnel surgeries on his hand. I mention that because while my father knew it would be a great career for me, he was concerned about the physicality. There was a big push of ‘everybody go to college so you you don’t have to do physical jobs.’ That kind of thinking was common, but the way I look at it now is that I am healthier than I have ever been because I work in construction,” says McCabe.

For women who may be concerned about working with things that are tremendously heavy or overly physical, McCabe believes hardwood flooring, in particular, is a career well worth exploring. “It is certainly physically demanding, but it keeps you in shape. It’s like doing yoga all day,” says McCabe.

A SENSE OF STABILITY
More critical than potential health benefits, McCabe believes a career in the trades also offers women a unique sense of stability that can benefit their lives in a wide variety of ways.

“There has always been this push of ‘a woman needs a stable job because she’s going to have a family someday.’ There’s the idea that a woman is going to need to take time off to have children and then come back to it. Later on, the prevailing thought is that a woman then needs a job that allows her to take time off to take the kids to school or the doctor,” explains McCabe. “While I don’t have kids, I do have a career that allows me to take time off when I want. More importantly, the skills I have acquired have proven to be beneficial because I can take care of myself and my own home. I don’t have to rely on anybody.”

ADDRESSING THE WAGE GAP
McCabe says the idea of a wage gap is not something that applies when women seek out a career in the trades.

“Working in the trades, I’ve gained beneficial life skills. I’ve learned to be a better consumer, but I also make equal money. There is no wage gap. Knowing all that, why would you not recommend that young females look into going into the trades as a career?”

As for the idea of it being a somewhat intimidating, male-dominated field, she believes that, in reality, this is an unfounded concern. McCabe thinks that women in her line of work can make an existing team even stronger.

“There are a lot of industries seeking out female talent specifically because of our pace and attention to detail.  Having more and more females on the job makes for a more dynamic job site. I think it’s more fun,” says McCabe.  

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE

For women looking to enter into the trades, McCabe stresses that they can never start too soon or too late. The key is to pinpoint an area where they may have a passion and explore it as a possible fit.

“It’s never too late to start learning. As an example of that, I’m about to start welding. The toughest part just might be narrowing down what you want to do. My suggestion to women is to do a little bit of research and see what excites them,” advises McCabe.

“There are so many opportunities out there to learn. Just look at all of the resources the NWFA offers. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t take full advantage of NWFA classes,” says McCabe. “If hardwood flooring is not your calling, then know that community colleges are also starting to offer a lot of different things. If you cannot decide, you can go there and dip your toes in.”

In addition to exploring these programs, McCabe advises students not to get discouraged by the cost of education.  

“If you find something that you are passionate about, there’s a lot of opportunities to learn while you earn through paid apprenticeships like what the NWFA offers,” says McCabe. “Regardless of the path you take to get into the trades, I can’t stress enough what a wonderful career this is for both men and women. We come together like a family. I have been welcomed into this line of work because I want to learn, I understand that respect is earned and not just given, and I want to be a part of a team. With those things in mind, I believe anyone can be successful, regardless of being a man or a woman.”

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