Carol Cain Detroit Free Press
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Carol Cain shares a plethora of opportunities now available for women to pursue careers in the construction industry.
Few would dispute there’s a talent gap and jobs left unfilled in the construction industry in Michigan and across the country. When it comes to women working in this sector, the situation is even grimmer.
Which is why leaders in business, government, labor and others have been launching programs and initiatives to encourage more women to consider these much in-demand jobs and careers.
“We’re working hard through initiatives like Going PRO, Futures for Frontliners and the upcoming Michigan Reconnect scholarship program to make sure all Michiganders — especially underrepresented groups including young girls and women — explore these career paths and take advantage of the training or credential opportunities that lead them to rewarding, good-paying careers in professional trades,” said Susan Corbin, acting director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO).
The Michigan Women’s Commission was recently moved into the department to work together to create more opportunities for women. Of the 179,300 jobs in the Michigan construction sector last year, 14% were held by women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Additionally, Michigan women accounted for 2,150 out of 19,730 active registered apprenticeships in 2019, representing just under 11% of the total.
Among programs the state has launched: Going PRO in Michigan (www.going-pro.com), which features background for folks to learn more about construction, manufacturing and other fields.
Futures for Frontliners (www.michigan.gov/Frontliners), though now closed was a scholarship program offered in 2020 to pay for front-line workers to attend a community college tuition-free. It’s interesting to note 67% of applicants were women. Michigan Reconnect is an upcoming scholarship program launching next month that will allow eligible applicants over the age of 25 to attend their local community college tuition-free to complete an associate degree or a skill certificate program. More details on it will be unveiled later.
Registered Apprenticeships (www.michigan.gov/apprenticeship), which lists opportunities for Michiganders to learn about “earn while you learn” careers. It includes construction, manufacturing and other fields. The Michigan Apprentice Steering Committee Inc. (MASCI), a statewide group of business, labor, education and government, has been working to lure more people to these industries. They recently announced winners of its 2020 top apprentice program in manufacturing and construction. Two young women took top honors. They were judged on productivity, craftsmanship, leadership, teamwork and competitiveness.
Sara Olney, a member of UAW 659 at General Motors in Flint, was chosen as the state’s top manufacturing apprentice, while Danielle Athey, an employee of M&M Excavating, and a member of Operating Engineers 324, won the construction apprentice title.
Barb Strachan, Associated General Contractors (AGC) workforce development director, said, “They are role models for other apprentices and exhibit exceptional leadership and teamwork. I think it’s great that we have two top female apprentices this year.”
Olney is a diemaker and is mastering making pressed metal dies used to make bodies and structural parts for vehicles. “Sara is part of our first graduating class of apprentices,” said Robert Vogt, GM engineering manager. “She represents the future of skilled trades die-making here ... as well as within GM."
GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra has been a champion for creating more opportunities for women in manufacturing.
Athey’s colleagues recognized the young operating engineer as someone with tenacity willing to do any job to get the task done. She’s gained extensive experience in road and pipeline construction.
Opportunities for women in construction were even scarcer years ago as Carmen Medina recounted. Today she works in the content department at Aaron Builders in Farmington Hills. She’s been in the industry 25 years and joined the company two years ago.
The divorced mom with three sons told me if she were starting out today she would have become a carpenter. “It always fascinated me.” But back then, being a young mom with three young sons to support was not conducive to the training and expense it would have taken to become a carpenter.
Vince Ivezaj, owner of Aaron Builders, has worked with the state and Wayne County Youth Department, and is helping train young people for jobs in construction industry.
"We'd like to see more women involved in this industry," he added. "Women are simply more detail oriented and more reliable. They don't call in sick." Valerie Vig, who runs J.S. Vig Construction in Plymouth, sees the ongoing lack of opportunities for women in the construction field, which is why she introduced an internship program at her firm. She’s also been teaming up with others partners to do the same.
Started in 1965 by her father, J.S. Vig was certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise 10 years ago. She runs the company along with her brother. Among projects they have been involved with: Madonna University’s Welcome Center, the University of Michigan Football Performance Center and Weight Room and various projects for DTE. The company has 20 employees, seven are women.
Vig talked about survival during this pandemic. “Historically, the highs and lows have been gradual and you can do some forecasting when the next high or low is coming. The difference with where we are at now is that it’s a sharper curve, and there are so many uncertainties. ...
“On a positive note, I do feel that this sharper decline will bounce back to a faster recovery.”
And as the economy improves, she’s optimistic more women will consider careers in the construction industry.
“The more we can do as a company and an industry at large to create opportunities for women and provide representation for the next generation of entrepreneurs and construction professionals, the better off we will be,” she said.
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