Women step up to fill skilled trades vacancies

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It’s no secret that Michigan is facing an employment crisis regarding qualified skilled trades workers. With an estimated 31 million baby boomers nationwide to retire from skilled trade positions by 2020, according to Source 2 Recruitment, the hunt is on for workers to fill those positions.

Michigan will have an estimated shortage of more than 810,000 high-demand career opportunities by 2024, according to the Workforce Intelligence Network and labor market information data. To meet that need, state officials are working with schools and trade organizations to put more students into the skilled trades arena.

One part of the solution is the Michigan Marshall Plan for Talent, a state program through the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development. During the next five years, the plan will invest $100 million in grants to school districts to develop career and technical education programs.

So, the industry is turning to a source of trades workers that has not seen much growth since World War II. Women are being recruited to be welders; electricians; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning technicians; and more.

The Women’s Center of Greater Lansing, a new member of the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, has developed a new initiative, the Women in Skilled Trades program, known as WIST.

The WIST program was developed by two women who work in the Lansing-area construction industry, Tori Menold from Granger Construction and Carol Cool from Infrastructure and Planning Services at Michigan State University. They approached Cindie Alwood, executive director of the Women’s Center, and the program was born.

WIST includes educational events and a 13-week Apprenticeship Readiness Program. Its first event, Women Build, took place in 2017, allowing women to explore careers in construction and other skilled trades jobs. WIST encourages hands-on interaction at such events, allowing the women to get comfortable with the trade of their choice or discover a skill or interest they never knew they had.

 Jobs in the skilled trades industry offer competitive wages, too.

“[In skilled trades jobs] there’s pay equity to start – you can start off as an apprentice with a living wage with benefits,” Alwood said. “They’re really good jobs for women who need to support themselves and their families.”

In 2014, there were almost 10 million skilled trade workers in the United States. Of those, only 872,000, roughly 8.9 percent, were women, according to Career School Now.

Women in construction make up 1.2 percent of all skilled workers. To break it down even further, Career School Now calculated how women are represented in five popular skilled trades: welders, 4.8 percent; electricians, 2.4 percent; carpenters, 1.7 percent; plumbers, 1.6 percent; and HVAC technicians, 1.2 percent.

The salary parity is more apparent as well. In the United States, women earn 82.1 percent of what men make. But in the construction sector, women earn an average of 93.4 percent of men’s earnings.

WIST, the only program of its type in Michigan, is an accelerated program that ensures women are ready for an apprenticeship as soon as they graduate, allowing them to enter the field and earn money immediately.

The organization specifically targets single moms. Participants receive a stipend to cover the transportation and child care costs to provide accessibility to those who otherwise would not be able to take advantage of the opportunity.

For information on the Marshall Plan for Talent, visit michigan.gov/ted/0,5863,7-336-85008—,00.html. To find out more about the Women in Skilled Trades program, go to cedamichigan.org/2018/05/women-in-skilled-trades-program/.


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