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Women in Trades: An Apprenticeship Success Story

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This is the Department of Labor blog post authored by Connie Ashbrook, Executive Director of Oregon Tradeswomen Inc.  In her blog, she pointed out that the most challenging obstacle women have to overcome in becoming an apprentice in a trades career is a lack of knowledge about these careers and how to successfully apply for apprenticeship.  She mentioned that according to Associated General Contractors of America, many firms report having a hard time finding qualified workers to fill project manageror supervisor positions, equipment operators, carpenters, and laborers.

The following guest post is authored by Oregon Tradeswomen Inc. Executive Director Connie Ashbrook, who participated in a panel on STEM and nontraditional jobs at the White House Summit on Working Families in June. View the panel here, and share your apprenticeship success story with us on Twitter by tagging @USDOL.

Deawendoe “Dee” St. Martin came to Oregon Tradeswomen Inc. a hard worker with a gift for fixing things. She sought out OTI’s state-certified pre-apprenticeship training program because she wanted a lifelong career that would allow her to support her four children.

Over the course of OTI’s seven-week Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class, Dee and the other 22 women in her cohort learned construction basics from experienced tradeswomen. In addition to studying construction math and measurement, practicing how to properly use hand and power tools, and being educated about communication and safety on the job site, they learned some of the most valuable skills necessary for a successful trades apprenticeship: construction culture and working productively to industry standards.

Deawendoe “Dee” St. Martin

After completing OTI’s pre-apprenticeship class, Dee applied for and was accepted into the Oregon Laborers Apprenticeship, a Registered Apprenticeship program with rigorous physical requirements. She often practiced late into the night on her own to develop the muscle and technical skills needed to pass such a strenuous and demanding test. As a result of her hard work and determination, she passed the test with flying colors.

Although many people believe it is women’s physical abilities that can keep them from succeeding in a trades career, the most challenging obstacle women have to overcome in becoming an apprentice is a lack of knowledge about these careers and how to successfully apply for apprenticeship.

It is, perhaps, this type of thinking that limits Registered Apprenticeship programs  from actively recruiting women. Apprenticeship programs OTI works with report having between 3 and 17 percent female apprentices. However, 70 programs in Oregon – or more than 50 percent of all state programs – do not have even one woman enrolled in their program.

With record numbers of skilled trades workers about to retire, Registered Apprenticeship programs and employers can’t afford to ignore half of the potential workforce. According to new research from the Associated General Contractors of America, “Sixty-two percent of the firms surveyed for recent research reported they are having a hard time filling key professional and craft worker positions … many firms report having a hard time finding qualified workers to fill project manager or supervisor positions, equipment operators, carpenters, and laborers.”

OTI enrolls more than 100 women in our pre-apprenticeship class every year, who − like Dee − are capable and ready to begin an apprenticeship, but lack some of the basic skills and knowledge to be truly successful. OTI placed 47 of our pre-apprenticeship graduates into Registered Apprenticeship programs last year and another 31 in construction helper, manufacturing or residential construction careers, and they flourish because they have been well prepared for the opportunity and have a clear idea of what to expect in their apprenticeship. Because of our strong partnerships, the apprenticeship programs we work with average 9.3 percent women.

As for Dee, she is now proudly working for an excavation company as a union laborer. Through her hard work and dedication, she is now making a wage that enables her to comfortably support her family. If you ask her what her next goal in life is, she would tell you, “The sky’s the limit.”

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