Women's Construction Career Fair Aims to Demolish Gender-Based Myths About The Construction Trades

MichelleA and NicoleP.jpg

Electricians and IBEW Local 401 sisters Michelle Abell and Nicole Perez

The future may be female, but those building it—at least right now—are still mostly male. The annual Building Women Career Fair, hosted by the Northern Nevada Apprenticeship Coordinators Association (NNACA) and sponsored by the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada and the State of Nevada’s Office of Workforce Innovation, aims to change that by hammering away at the myths that keep women from pursuing careers in construction. 

The fair, which welcomes women (and men!) of all ages, happens on Friday, November 16, 2018 at the TMCC Applied Technology Center at 475 Edison Way in Reno. The event is part of National Apprenticeship Week, and runs from 9:30a to 3p. Virtual reality stations and cool, hands-on building activities in trades like welding, sheet metal, pipefitting and more will give attendees a chance to interact with equipment and safely sample the on-the-job experience of painting a room or welding pipe. Local tradeswomen will be on hand to answer questions about what it’s really like to be a woman working in construction, and to help interested women navigate the application process for paid apprenticeships they can start right out of high school.

“Women have proven again and again that they’re just as hardworking and capable, and in some cases even outperform, men in the building trades,” says NNACA trades apprenticeship recruiter Dian VanderWell, “but nobody’s telling young women that. The myth still persists that it’s still a career most suited to men, or that the trades aren’t a progressive career option for women. We’d like to change that, and this career fair is a good start.”

Despite construction’s industry’s paid training, high wages, and good benefits, the national average of women working in the trades is still at just under 10%—but that needle is beginning to move. Most tradeswomen report that they’ve often been the only woman on a given job site, but are starting to see more of their female counterparts—referred to in the trade unions as sisters—on the job. In some areas, all-female work crews have been spotted, and Habitat for Humanity has begun assembly all-female construction crews in some areas. And women-owned construction companies are on the rise. It’s estimated that within ten years, women will comprise as much as 25% of the construction workforce.

Last month, more than 2,000 tradeswomen from around the world, including large groups from Canada and smaller cohorts from Ireland and Nigeria, gathered in Seattle for the 8th annual Women Build Nations Conference—the third largest gathering of union members in the U.S.—to talk shop on issues ranging from recruitment and mentorship to career advancement and technology to the evergreen issues of sexism and harassment on the job. 

VanderWell, who attended the conference to learn what tradeswomen need to be successful, and to bring home ideas for recruiting more of them, says the mass of tradeswomen gathered in one place to help each other was inspiring. “These women are coming together not just at the conference, but in tight-knit women’s trades associations in their local areas, to help each other go farther in their careers and navigate some of the challenges. I’d like to see a group for tradeswomen in Northern Nevada gain traction. It’s been clear in our previous years that women of all ages are interested in these careers, but there’s still a barrier to tear down in getting them to take the step to apply, and then to stay.”

Robert Benner, business agent for the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada, top sponsors of the annual Construction Career Day in Reno, agrees. “Yes it’s starting to change, but it’s still challenging to be a woman in the building trades, and we’ve got to keep working at making the environment supportive of women. We do that in part by bringing more women into these fields, having more women on our job sites, and then getting them on the path to leadership and fully supporting them in that.” 

What: Building Women Career Fair
When: Friday, November 16, 2018, 9:30a-3p
Where: TMCC Applied Tech Center, 475 Edison Way, Reno
More: https://www.facebook.com/events/182947265963489/

Eight Reno/Sparks area tradeswomen at all stages of their careers talk about what it's like working as a woman in the building and construction trades, and why they'd recommend a trades career to hardworking women who want to be financially independent.