Build A Life That Works

Taking A Cue from Massachusetts: Women’s Trade Campaigns

Drive-thru:

  • Several campaigns are under way to attract, train, and retain women in the still male-dominated construction industry.
  • Massachusetts launched Build a Life That Works with a website and prominent signage along an interstate highway showing women on the jobsites of major construction projects in Boston.
  • Along with the United States, the UK, Australia, and Canada have a variety of projects in place to promote women in construction.

Women comprise nearly half the workforce in the United States, yet they make up only nine per cent of all workers in the construction industry, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. The percentage varies among the states but has remained resolutely low when compared to other industries.

Campaigns launched in several U.S. cities and states to raise awareness, interest, and participation in a labor force that is facing shrinking numbers from retirement and other attrition are dually committed to increasing participation in construction among women.

Campaign: Build a Life That Works (Boston, Massachusetts)

Build a Life That Works is the brainchild of the Northeast Center for Tradeswomen’s Equity. Based in Massachusetts, the group’s goal is to increase the number of women in the building trades to 20 per cent by 2020.

Currently, women make up only five per cent of the trade workforce in the state and six per cent in Boston. City officials have recently approved an ordinance that was part of a plan to increase hiring of residents, women, and minorities to construction jobs.

A website for the campaign went live at the same time as billboards were placed along Interstate 93 featuring tradeswomen working on high-profile construction sites in and around Boston. The billboards went up on National Women in Apprenticeship Day, November 16, 2017.

Project: Women Who Weld (Detroit, Michigan)

Women Who Weld was founded by Samantha Farr, who runs a planning and economic firm. She discovered welding in high school and is now focused on promoting the trade to unemployed and underemployed women in Detroit and, eventually, across the globe.

Women Who Weld offers a six-week training program that teaches women the skill in addition to providing resume preparation, childcare, transportation, and lunch to its students. Aside from a United Auto Workers program, Farr’s is the only one available to graduate women who are job-ready (all other training programs are at least 18 months and have apprenticeships that may last up to four years).

Program: Tools for Tomorrow (Madison, Wisconsin)

Madison Area Technical College introduced a program called Tools for Tomorrow, which partnered with its Career and Employment Center to offer a free class called Exploring Careers in the Skilled Trades for Women. The intent was to attract women and high school girls at the junior and senior level to the skilled trades. The school features programs in carpentry, welding, industrial maintenance, electrical work, and construction.

Policy Group on the Tradeswomen’s Issues (New England)

Elizabeth Skidmore cofounded PGTI as a regional collaboration of construction industry stakeholders interested in attracting and promoting women in the skilled trades and construction industry.

The group has noted that when a diversity initiative is implemented within a company or industry, it still tends to default to the hiring of men. PGTI hopes to encourage employers to “Think Women First!” when planning diversity events and initiatives.

As the business representative for the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, Skidmore stated to the Build a Life That Works group, “There are women all over the Commonwealth who can do this work, but no one’s told them it’s an option, no one’s told them how to come in the door; how to find the door.”

PGTI is also participating in the Building Pathways to Pre-apprenticeship Program run by the Connecticut Building Trades, another program concentrating on introducing women to the skilled trades. PGTI is responsible for diversity training for this project.

Clearly, women are interested in obtaining employment in a stable industry. Skilled trade jobs cannot be outsourced, and the labor market continues to lose numbers. It’s important for women and girls to see other women in the trades performing these roles, and these groups and campaigns were all developed to make it easier to get training and enter the industry.

Australia, Canada, and the UK have similar programs intended to attract and retain women in the trades as an equalizer and to combat the coming skills shortage.

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