The shortage of skilled workers is an opportunity for women

Women are still trapped in just five jobs: Education, office management, health care, sales and cleaning. It’s time to change that. A comment by Anja Herberth.


Publisher Mag. (FH) Anja Herberth is a management consultant for communication and marketing and specializes in digital and technological transformation with her agency owl lab. She is convinced that technologies and innovations can solve the challenges of our time. She appeals to women to seize the professional opportunities that await in these sectors.

Women, step on it!

When I attended the Higher Technical College in Spengergasse, Vienna, 30 years ago, I was one of only a few girls in textile technology; in the “spinning and weaving” branch, I was the only one in the Matura class. Now you might think: Textile technology is a niche. Yes, but on closer analysis, women were active in exactly five sectors at the time: Education, office management, health care, sales and cleaning.

And now guess what the situation is today: Education, office management, health care, sales, and cleaning. The Programs to get more girls into engineering and IT failed. The challenge of broadening women’s career choices has remained the same, despite many millions of taxpayer Euros.

In the meantime, the shortage of skilled workers is acute, and companies in Europe have reached their personnel limits. One example: The massively sponsored photovoltaic projects now have waiting times of months – simply because the market is desperate for skilled workers and the projects cannot be implemented more quickly.

Missed opportunities

Three undesirable developments of the past decades must be considered here:

First, apprenticeships are filled with a deficit agenda. If you don’t make it through school, you “end up” in an apprenticeship. According to the principle: School is too hard for you, just complete complete at least an apprenticeship. These jobs – and this doesn’t just affect technology – are surrounded by the story of school failure instead of telling a different, positive message. This is because apprenticeships, especially in technology and IT, have very good career opportunities today, as companies need skilled workers at all job levels.

And secondly, we are not very tech-savvy in Europe. An example: In China, a total of 4.7 million students graduated in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) in 2017, compared to 1.2 million in the entire EU. This means, China has 4x as many graduates in STEM subjects as the EU with a population only three times as large. In 2017, the leading nations in STEM degrees were China with 4.7 million, India with 2.6 million, and the U.S. with 568,000, with an upward trend for China and India. (Source: Austrian Chamber of Commerce)

And thirdly, the number of women in technology and IT professions still has room for improvement. The old role models are still firmly embedded in us: in a study by the Upper Austria University of Applied Sciences, in which more than one hundred female students were surveyed, nine out of ten girls who were thinking about studying IT said that they had been advised to study something social, communicative or women-specific. (Source: https://www.derstandard.at/)

The sad conclusion: As women, we study bypassing the needs of the market – and then wonder why we earn too little. Because that explains a large part of the gender-pay gap: Those five jobs we’ve been feeling perfectly comfortable in for decades are traditionally low-paying jobs.

Why are women not active enough in STEM subjects? The barriers for girls to take an interest in STEM subjects are high. They lack self-confidence, and stereotypes are passed on socially from an early age. STEM subjects are also seen as highly competitive, which adds to the anxiety.

But breaking through this system seems easier than it first appears. In March 2021, I attended an online study presentation: A simple game for kids called “Robotopia” reduced the interest gap between girls and boys by 20%. The game addresses the joy of competition and thus creates a positive influence on the inhibiting factors.

But what to do if there is a shortage of skilled workers now?

After Corona, the need for well-qualified professionals will continue to grow: The challenges of our time are being solved with technology. Industry 4.0, digitization and ecological change mean lots of new jobs.

Furthermore, the shortage of skilled workers will be increased by the retirement of the so-called baby boomers (high birth rate in the generations after World War 2 up to 1964).

The answer can only be: Further training and qualification – for exciting jobs with a bright future. Companies must design jobs more attractively so that they are also exciting for women. Take appropriate measures to reconcile work and family life. Because in most cases, women still play the dual role of family manager.

And improved communication: New stories are needed for technology and IT, for apprenticeships. These are fulfilling jobs which solve social challenges and address exciting issues such as the energy transition. For women, in turn, better-paid jobs mean independence from the state and family. So it’s a win-win situation for both sides.

Anja Herberth
Author: Anja Herberth

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