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Skilled Trades

Building the Nation: Women in Construction


Women starting out or changing careers after the pandemic should think about a career in the construction trades, starting with an apprenticeship.

Federal infrastructure construction projects and apprenticeships are in the news due to many available jobs and competitive pay. The average wage is over $30 an hour in California with additional healthcare and pension benefits, and entry wages start above $20 an hour.

Today, women make up only 4% of the skilled trades despite being 50% of the workforce. So, where are the women in construction, and how can we diversify this field?

The benefits of a career in construction

I worked construction for 25 years, made good money, supported my family, and received healthcare for my kids and a retirement pension. As the head of Tradeswomen, Inc., I remain a proud International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) electrician.

These are family-sustaining, wealth-building careers that do not require college degrees and offer paid training. Skilled trades apprentices learn their craft with paid, supervised, on-the-job work and supplemental classroom hours.

Minimum entry requirements are basic: physical ability to do the job, willingness to learn, being drug-free, and showing up ready to work every day. Some trades require a high school diploma, driver’s license, and a basic skills exam.

Possible obstacles

Women can physically do this work, and many more women would if they knew how to start and had encouragement to succeed. Of course, there are many hurdles in construction; discrimination and harassment have not disappeared from the industry.

Childcare is a major challenge in construction, as it is in most industries. In a recent national survey, over 50% of the 2,600 tradeswomen responding had children; nearly 20% had children under six.

Construction work includes a multitude of factors that make childcare difficult, such as early starts and overtime. The obstacles include rotating shifts, split shifts, double shifts, and unscheduled call-ins.

A variety of choices

Construction careers are available in dozens of trades — bricklayers, heavy equipment operators, electricians, plumbers, welders, elevator constructors, plasterers, laborers, and carpenters. Job sites include homes, high-rises, highways, factories, and hospitals, and apprenticeship graduates can move into supervision, teaching, management, union leadership, and public agency positions.

Trades work can also be satisfying and fun. If someone, no matter their gender, likes to work with their hands, be outdoors, be independent, and work hard every day, then they can love this work.

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