Written by Erin Johansson, Research Manager, and Ehmonie Hainey, Senior Staff Writer, with Jobs for Justice.
The construction sector is flourishing. Employment rose nearly three percent over the last year, and experts predict that the industry will continue to grow, absent the severe boom and bust dynamics of the Great Recession. Despite all of this growth, the construction sector remains a white male-dominated industry – both in terms of career and ownership opportunities.
Our organization issued a new report that proves that construction can be a viable career opportunity for women and people of color. Through community partnerships, building trades unions successfully recruited a diverse workforce for the UMass Boston campus and Minnesota Vikings stadium projects. The women who joined the projects gained not only a job but a lifetime career in the trades. By starting on those projects, they also entered three to five-year apprenticeship programs run jointly by unions and contractors, gaining lifelong skills.
Apprenticeship programs are a great way to launch a career in the trades. For those with strong ambition, that job could ultimately lead to ownership.
Since Black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States, what are the paths to ownership available to them?
One way is to start off as a skilled tradesperson then work your way up to foreperson, then site supervisor, and ultimately become the owner of a small contracting firm. Another option is to take over the family business. Both of these scenarios are limited for black women, given that both women and racial minorities continue to be underrepresented in the construction workforce.
However, through on-the-job training, apprenticeship programs increasingly are offering women a foothold in the industry. The road from apprenticeship to ownership at first may seem to be too lengthy for women eager to start their own firms now. However, there are several benefits to this pursuing this path. For one, you do not need a college degree. Apprentice programs provide free training, as well as the opportunity to earn a decent hourly wage. Once the apprenticeship is complete, you can still take classes through your union (like supervising, project finance, etc.) to advance your career in construction. Some general contractors offer classes specifically for tradespeople who wish to own their own firms.
Additionally, starting off as an apprentice enables you to enter into the business with strong credibility. If you’re a woman of color running your business in this white, male-dominated industry, it certainly would give you an advantage to know the ins and outs of how the work gets done, with years of experience gained on a job site.
For Black women, who typically aren’t actively recruited to work in this industry, envisioning a path to ownership may seem unlikely. However, the good news is that projects around the country actively are seeking women – especially women of color, to enter into the construction trades. And as construction projects increasingly seek more diverse tradespeople, more avenues to ownership also are being created.
Since its founding in 1987, Jobs with Justice has been winning campaigns that build power for working people; advancing a sustainable and powerful network of grassroots coalitions; supporting the growth and leadership of local leaders and activists; and developing strategic alliances nationally and globally that strengthen the movement for workers’ rights, economic justice, and our democracy.