As about 270 young women stepped off the school charter buses and onto the Drywall and Lathers and Carpenters Training Center in Hayward California, they excitedly talked about the different workshops set up for them. Students crowded the booths, all anxiously waiting to receive their construction goggles and begin the day.
This year marked the 3rd Annual Women Can Build Career Skilled Trades Fair, an all-day event for women to gain hands-on experience and learn about the opportunities available in the field of construction. About 150 of them were Oakland students who Emiliano Sanchez, the director of Career and Technical Education/Trades and Apprenticeship with Oakland’s school district, organized to be a part of this event.
“This event is really important, because the skills trade in construction is less than three percent for women,” said Sanchez. “We need to expose all our students, but in particular our female students, so that they know not only can they enter but they can excel.”
Sanchez was present for the entire event, making sure that the schedule flowed continuously throughout the day and that students were finding their way to the different workshops.
Sanchez worked with Tradeswomen Inc. and the Bay Area Apprenticeship Coordinators Association to organize five hands-on training sessions for the students to talk with experts who included electricians, carpenters, surveyors, and inspectors.
The event was open to both young men and women, but women made up a majority of the participants present at the event. Students had the opportunity talk with professionals in the field and engage in a conversation. They watched demonstrations, as volunteers showed them how to perform work within their specialized trades. Students then had the opportunity to take turns performing the task demonstrated by the instructor, and working with equipment such as measuring tools and hammers. To close out each session, the instructor would have a question and answer session with the students to help them gain a better understanding how to successfully navigate their trade.
“So far, my favorite session has been the inspector one, because it seems easier and contains less math. I also like how they overlook the entire project overall, and are also involved with the project. So for me it is a win-win situation,” said Alazah Dawson, a senior at Skyline High School in Oakland.
“My favorite session was with the electrician, because I like power and experimenting with lights,” said Jade Jones, a senior at Dewey Academy in Oakland.
Among the people who were excited to see a female presence at the skill trades fair was Nicholas Beasley, a teacher at Skyline High School. Beasley was serving as a chaperone at the event. But he is also a shop teacher in his first year at Skyline, who believes not enough students know about these jobs. “A lot of these jobs, students just aren’t exposed too. It is hard, because a lot of these you learn about because a family member is doing it, or a family friend. Just being able to see these jobs and finding out that they are real jobs with good career paths and money is good exposure,” said Beasley.
Susie Suafai, a representative of Tradeswomen Inc., was handing out information, helping participants register, directing students to the correct workshops, and assisting Sanchez in ensuring the event ran according to schedule. Tradeswomen Inc. focuses on recruiting more women into construction and promoting a high retention rate for women who enter construction-related fields. They also aim to help women grow into leaders within their trades, jobs or unions.
Suafai said she believes that it is important for women to know that they can learn these skilled trades. “A lot of young women, especially those who are in high school, don’t know about careers in the construction trades as an option for them. And when they learn what the trades are, it’s like a light bulb goes off,” said Suafai. “If they have interest in working with their hands and building things, this really exposes them to array of building and construction trades.”
Jacob Stocke has been with his apprenticeship program for 10 years. He graduated in the beginning of 2012, and is now the coordinator for a construction inspector apprenticeship program. He was at the event to recruit students to come to the next information session about his program and to learn about the job responsibilities of an inspector.
Stocke described the reasons why the skilled trades industry stood out to him the most when he was leaving college, but particularly becoming an inspector. “I didn’t want my work to be what my life was about. I also decided that I did not want to be stuck in an office. At the time, my father was a heavy equipment mechanic,” said Stocke. “So we went to an inspector’s orientation and I decided I wanted in, applied, got it, and the rest was history.”
Brandon Lubarsky has been a surveyor apprentice for 4 years, and believes that trade has kept focused on his goals. At the fair, he was teaching students the techniques of being a surveyor.
Lubarsky talked about why the skilled trades pathway might work better for some students than others. “I was more of an energetic outgoing guy where I wasn’t really focused,” said Lubarsky. “So going to school wouldn’t have made sense for me because I wouldn’t have taken it seriously.”
“This is something that keeps you focused, you work 40 hours a week, and you go to class for 3 hours a week, you’re making money, and you’re learning,” he added. “I’ve developed quite a passion for this.”
Sanchez said that the skilled trades are not taught in school, but can make great jobs. “Trades and advance manufacturing are very lucrative careers,” said Sanchez.
Some of the students who attended the workshop said they appreciate what the skilled trades has to offer them. “You don’t have to go to college, so you won’t be in any debt or owe any loans. It is basically a program that is 4 years. Also, it is a union and any job with a union is good, and a lot of these jobs are within unions,” said Dawson.
Beasley said it is important that the students share the information they learned at the skills trades fair with their peers, so the word starts to spread about the opportunities these programs offer. “Even if they themselves are not into it, it’s the fact that they can tell their friends about it and they can let more people know about these jobs options,” said Beasley.
Throughout the event, instructors answered questions from students between sessions, and gave advice. In response to a student’s question about recommendations he could offer female apprentices, Stocke said, “As a broad rule, female apprentices have experienced all of the same problems that male apprentices have, plus the additional burdens of childcare and family. So, having a good support network will help you with any of the challenges you face. Because no matter what construction you do you going to work crazy hours, and weird schedules. And having a good support network can help you with all of that.”
“Follow your passion,” advised Sanchez. “Too many times, people are steered away by adults saying, ‘Hey where are you going to college?’ But what we should be doing is asking them what their passions are.”