Why are women getting into the scrap metal industry? It’s honest work
The scrap metal industry is perceived as a male-dominated field.
But a handful of women are working to change that notion and leave their mark on the emerging industry.
These women act as secretaries, drivers, scrap collectors and coordinators of the old and scrap trade under the TT Scrap Iron Dealers Association.
A dealer can earn up to $2,000 per ton in a day, depending on the quality and type of steel. These large returns have drawn thousands into the industry, some of whom have taken illegal routes to source scrap metal, frustrating citizens and businesses.
As a result, the government recently imposed a six-month ban on the export of scrap metal and old iron to deal with an increase in thefts from private and public agencies. While this may affect the process put in place by the industry, women feel compelled to find ways to keep their operations alive during the downtime.
For most of them, the decision to enter the industry was made in a desperate need to earn money. But soon after, they developed a deep attraction to operations and satisfying returns.
Scrap metal dealer Nancy Pierre hopes more women will see the benefits of getting into scrap handling and exporting.
In an interview with Sunday Newsday, she said: ‘It’s honest work, just do it the right and legal way and you’ll be fine. Some people consider us scavengers and that’s way too low, but if they saw how this industry grows, they’d see how every struggling parent can benefit.
Pierre is the driver and her husband collects and loads the scrap metal onto their truck.
An important routine as a scavenger is to protect your skin. “I walk in gloves and sanitizer and make sure my skin is moisturized and I’m careful not to cut myself, which is why even as someone who handles dangerous old iron, my skin has the look good.”
For her, it is not difficult to reconcile family life and professional life because she has developed flexible working hours.
“Yes, it’s a very hard job. I work from Sunday to Sunday but I am my own boss. I never thought of entering this industry, I just needed the money.
Pierre owned a furniture and appliance store before becoming a scrap dealer.
“I was restrained twice, once with a gun, the second time they put a knife to my neck and I almost got killed. And I close it. I also have a furniture factory but it was not profitable.
She ran a private transport business before entering the industry but found herself out of work during the first lockdown in 2020 to prevent the spread of covid19.
Her family ended up in debt and couldn’t pay their mortgage. They temporarily lost their home and after a trial an order was made that the family pay all installments on time, and if two payments are missed they will be evicted.
“I needed to pay my bills so I spoke to my husband about the breakage and it was our best way to support ourselves at the time.”
“This industry saved my house, bought groceries and saved money, but now with the six-month ban, I’m asking anyone who can help me to help me.
Karen Salazar, a mother of eight, told Sunday Newsday she has never regretted changing careers nine years ago.
Before entering the industry, she worked in a restaurant in eastern Trinidad.
“After getting married and moving south, I saw the scrap metal business happening and realized there was potential here to take care of myself and the kids.”
Salazar buys old scrap metal from collectors and resells it.
“Being a woman in this industry, I see myself growing because it’s profitable. I call my own shots, make my own money, regulate my time.
Salazar thinks more women would be attracted to the business if there were no stigma attached to the industry.
Former nail technician Willetta Wilson entered the industry as an administrative volunteer following a neck injury.
“I knew people in the scrap industry and was assisting them with a symposium in 2020 because I have a background in event management.
While working behind the scenes, she naturally fell to the position of secretary and was later elected.
“It was not at all an industry that I thought I would have been in. I was always drawn to more masculine things, (but) I was always comfortable. But the industry of scrap metal is not something I planned to get into. It just happened by chance.”
Wilson is responsible for media relations, event planning and all aspects of communications for the association.
For her part, there was no stigma from those close to her.
“Most of them are in the industry, so it wasn’t a problem. They never said anything negative directly to me.
“It seems to be a very lucrative industry. We have people like me and Nancy, who have paved the way for women to be barrier-free. Even if you want to pick up leftovers, there can be weight challenges, but many of these women have aids most of the time.
“But if you can only lift 40 pounds, too bad, there really isn’t a barrier.”
She also believes the industry has room for female entrepreneurs to own and operate a scrap yard.
“You can get your employees out. If you have a small investment to start a small yard the right way, following the rule, then why not. They can do it and make money.
From where she sits, she said she had no challenges as a woman in the industry, but was aware of the challenges faced by others.
“There is potential in the industry for women. There are a lot of single women with kids who have to get by, and if that’s a way for them without having a formal education, then they can get into the industry.
She lamented that the industry has a long way to go and that the ban is turning away those who are interested.
“During our awareness campaign, I have met many more silent women in the industry and they have similar challenges, they have their children to feed and they say they have to find them. That’s why I’m worried about the ban. I can easily go back to doing nails, but what about them?
She encourages women to reach out to the association. “Let’s connect. We may not always agree on everything, but the industry needs this support to move forward. If we hadn’t implemented the six-month ban. We still have to put things in place for that.