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To Beat the Workforce Shortage, Reimagine the Workforce

Leilanna Barrentes

What we think about when picturing a specific industry may be perpetuating biases and excluding parts of the workforce.

Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Employment for Women (ANEW) and other pre-apprenticeship programs around the country have been successfully placing women in the construction trades for over 40 years. Although women make up only 3% of construction workers on the tools, in Seattle and Boston, where this programming exists, women make up almost 10%.

“I have seen 115-pound women carry 80 pounds of rebar back and forth for 30 minutes to get into the ironworkers. I have learned not to question a woman on a mission. I believe anyone can accomplish a goal — I see it every day,” said Karen Dove, executive director of ANEW. ”If you are a single mother working two jobs at minimum wage to make ends meet and barely get by, and you have the opportunity to earn a family wage with benefits, it is amazing how motivated you can be.”

Helping women in action

Leilanna Barrentes is a perfect example of the change that can happen when women are given an opportunity. She had no background or experience in the construction field when she started her pre-apprenticeship training in September 2013.

She joined the workforce as a laborer, but moved to operating engineer when an opportunity presented itself. She journeyed out in 2019 and has been a valuable asset to any team she has worked with, including a couple of years at the newly-built Climate Pledge Arena.

“Last year I made $185,000 and bought a house, two things I never thought I would accomplish before ANEW,” Leilanna said. ”Now I give back by coming to talk to new classes, and I would like to join the board of directors.”

So, what is the answer to the workforce shortage in the construction industry? She is right there at the supermarket, serving at a restaurant, bartending, and taking care of your children. It is time to change the face of construction.

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