Nov 15, 2022 - News

Building a pipeline for women in construction

Illustration of a woman holding a hard hat under her arm next to a crane with a blueprint and geometric shapes in the background.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

While construction remains a male-dominated industry, union tradeswomen in Massachusetts are making gains in workforce participation, Mary Vogel, executive director of the nonprofit Building Pathways, tells Axios.

What's happening: Union trade workers get livable wages, pensions, health insurance and other benefits that help workers who didn’t go to college or who want to change careers advance, but the industry has historically catered to men.

Why it matters: The Building Pathways program, which launched in 2011, is trying to change that. The program has trained hundreds of women who have landed apprenticeships and union jobs as electricians, carpenters and other roles in construction.

  • In a decade, women's participation in union apprenticeship programs grew from 4.9% to 10.4%, Vogel says, citing the state Division of Apprentice Standards.
  • But recruitment is only part of the equation. Building Pathways has worked with policy groups to ensure women have equal access to work on construction sites in Massachusetts.

Details: Building Pathways recruits people for a 200-plus-hour pre-apprenticeship program, during which they learn occupational skills and explore the 17 building trades.

  • It began with 173 women apprentices. This year's class had 763.

What they're saying: Savy Francis, one of the first participants in 2012, tells Axios she came from a union family but couldn't get apprenticeships in her mid-20s because the recession prompted unions to freeze the pipeline.

  • "When Building Pathways came, I always tell people that was my golden ticket, the opportunity that let me in through the door that I was knocking on for so long," says Francis, now 39, of Rockland, who is now a journeyman pipefitter and a part-time instructor at Building Pathways.

Flashback: In 1978, President Jimmy Carter issued an executive order requiring that women hold 6.9% of work hours on construction projects.

  • The industry overall has failed to meet those goals, with some exceptions.

Massachusetts has similar goals, but a report from Auditor Suzanne Bump's office reviewing the industry between 2019-20 found that in a sample of 127 construction companies, 95% of contracts failed to meet the 6.9% threshold for construction hours worked by women.

  • About 61% of those contracts didn't have any hours worked by women, per the report.

Yes, but: Building Pathways and organizations like Policy Group on Trades Women have recruited more women into the field and work with state agencies and developers to ensure they get equal access to work.

  • Working with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, Building Pathways ensured construction teams exceeded the Carter threshold at Encore Boston Harbor (7.2%) and MGM Springfield (7%).
  • Job sites like Winthrop Center and Suffolk Downs have started adding ombuds services so workers have an independent resource to report any concerns.
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